Scott Huey drove his large, red pickup truck through knee-deep flood water on his way to work Wednesday morning, passing one abandoned car after another until he looked inside a blue Grand Am stalled on Hagood Avenue and noticed a woman still inside.
"Get me out of here!" Charleston resident Ingrid Muhammad yelled as Huey pulled up beside her car.
Huey took off his shoes and socks and waded into the water. He hooked a cable to her car and pulled it to dry land after Muhammad climbed into the bed of his truck.
"I opened the door and water started coming in," Muhammad said later. "That's when I got really scared."
Heavy morning rain during high tide turned streets into lakes and rivers, leaving commuters to navigate through a maze of flooded and closed streets. More than 2 inches of rain fell in downtown
Charleston during the morning rush hour, forcing traffic on the Crosstown Expressway to slow to a crawl.
Luckily, Round Two of the storm that came through late Wednesday night wasn't as bad, bringing lots of rain but only minimally high winds, hitting 40 mph at Charleston International Airport.
Several roads were closed downtown Wednesday night, but fears of tornadoes went unfounded as none were reported or suspected by the National Weather Service. Still, area beach officials said they would be out after sun-up today checking for erosion.
Though skies are expected to clear today, a high surf advisory is in effect for this morning along the southern coast. Forecasters say waves as high has 6 feet could break on the beaches. Folly Beach Mayor Carl Beckmann Jr. said the high tide surf had been "chomping at the dunes," so he expected some of the sand to wash away.
Power outages also were considered minimal. About 500 people were without power in West Ashley around 10 p.m. Wednesday, and 150 were without power on James Island, a South Carolina Electric & Gas spokesperson said.
During the height of the day-time storm Wednesday, the story was wet gridlock as traffic coming into Charleston from all directions stalled to a water-clogged halt. Guessing games broke out for commuters who struggled to find passable roads.
Felix Dejesus said he weaved in and out of the downtown roads so much Wednesday morning that his car ran out of gas before he could make it to work. The Charleston resident grabbed a gas can and walked toward the nearest gas station, having to navigate a flooded Hagood, on the way.
"I tried to go down so many streets to get around the flooding that I didn't realize I was so low," Dejesus said. "I feel like a fool."
Kyle Bilik and his German shepherd, Vassago, rode around the peninsula on a mo-ped in hopes of helping a friend who had car trouble.
"I don't think I'm getting anywhere in this flooding," Bilik said.
Forget about a mo-ped, President Street downtown was impassable to anything less than a large pickup. The water had all but swallowed a white Infiniti that was stranded in the middle of the street.
Charleston Housing Authority employees Walter Newman, Gussie Dennis and Donald Deweese hauled sandbags through the water to prevent a row of apartments from becoming flooded.
"We're the backbone of the Housing Authority," joked Newman. "We're just trying to prevent something from happening when high tide comes later tonight."
As they were working, a blue Volkswagen came slicing through the flood waters until, about halfway, the engine growled and white smoke poured from the car, bringing it to a halt.
The driver rolled up his pant legs and started pushing it to dry land. Deweese and another Good Samaritan joined him.
Stranded driver Muhammad said she was grateful for passerby Huey's help. She said many people passed by her without stopping.
Huey said he was happy to help. "If my wife was in the same predicament I would have wanted someone to at least stop and help her," he said.
Charleston has struggled with flooding and drainage problems for about as long as the low-lying city has existed, and has spent tens of millions of dollars on flood control projects downtown and west of the Ashley River, but most of the work outlined in a 1984 drainage improvement plan remains uncompleted because of the cost.
In September, Charleston submitted a federal grant application for $146.3 million in stimulus funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which the city hopes to use to buy a drainage system for a 500-acre section of the peninsula where heavy rains at high tide often flood the Crosstown and neighborhood streets, frequently damaging homes and property.
The city already has spent $5 million on engineering work for the proposed system of huge shafts and tunnels linked to a trio of massive pumps that could send 390,000 gallons of water per minute into the Ashley River. A similar system is in use around Calhoun and East Bay streets, and that system is scheduled to be connected to additional tunnels to address flooding around the City Market.
Though the nighttime storm wasn't considered severe, as a precaution earlier in the day Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester 2 and 4 school districts had canceled all after-school activities set for Wednesday night. Cancellations also hit area colleges, including The Citadel and the College of Charleston, and local governments shut down, as well. So did the Charleston library system.