South Carolina residents in 'raging river' conditions help each other; put disasters into perspective

by Kelly Ledbetter |

(REUTERS/Randall Hill)A firetruck speeds through flooded area along Dunbar Road in Georgetown, South Carolina October 8, 2015. Flooding from historic rainfall in South Carolina claimed two more lives on Wednesday, and the threat of further inundation from swollen rivers and vulnerable dams put already ravaged communities on edge.

COLUMBIA, S.C. (Christian Examiner) – The record-breaking floods that Columbia have been getting the past week of rain have compromised the city's drinking water, caused the evacuation of a neighborhood's worth of neighborhoods, killed 17 people by floods or flood-related vehicle accidents—and given South Carolinians like Rawlings LaMotte the opportunity to help each other.

LaMotte, 38, a residential real estate broker, told the Associated Press the front of his subdivision was flooded with up to five feet of water. "It looks like a raging river," he said.

Been a trying few days but our city has shined. I've been so inspired seeing neighbor helping neighbor and strangers lifting each other up.
- Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin

He has been using his motorboat to carry people to safety, mostly away from their homes blocked by the catastrophic floodwaters.

Over 16 inches of rain fell on Oct. 4 in Columbia, nearly doubling the previous all-time record for the city, according to the National Weather Service.

"I told one of my friends earlier today [Sunday], this put everything we've seen with Katrina into perspective," LaMotte said. "Until you've experienced something like this, you have no idea how bad it really is."

BOIL WATER ADVISORY IN EFFECT

The city lost its water services due to the extraordinary flooding. The city website reports that it has been attempting to repair the breach to the Columbia Canal with boulders and sandbags helicoptered in, but on Wednesday the pressure on the repairs caused the edges of the breach to become "unstable."

"We are up against some challenging situations, but we're doing our best to make the repairs while still keeping the canal levels up," Assistant City Manager Missy Gentry said on the website. "Although I am disappointed our initial plans were not successful, we had the foresight to have an alternate plan already in place and we are moving forward."

The city has issued a boil water advisory and announced the locations of water distribution sites. It is accepting donations of drinking water from nearby communities and asks that citizens limit water use when possible.

Though it stopped raining on Tuesday for the first time in 14 days, the water is still extremely dangerous, and many citizens are wisely heeding official advice to remain in safe locations rather than return to their homes to assess the damage while it is not yet safe.

Mary Gainey learned Sunday afternoon that floodwater from a creek was threatening her home in Florence, east of Columbia.

"This is the first time we've had to be evacuated," she told AP. "It's strange leaving everything behind."

Gainey, 65, decided to stay at her daughter's house until her home was out of danger.

"I know God that will take care of us," she said.

MAYOR INSPIRED BY STRANGERS' AID

Melissa Harrington, 56, and her sister, 78, sheltered at a high school when they learned that a nearby dam was at risk of breaching and flooding their neighborhood. "We thought, better safe than sorry," Harrington said.

More than 100 people slept on cots in the gym, Reuters reported. "I know that God would protect us," Harrington said, "but I'd rather not get a ladder and perch atop the house if I can help it."

Many of the flood-related deaths have been caused by accidents when vehicles lost traction or from vehicles being overwhelmed and swept away.

Two people died in a truck that was driven beyond safety barriers while three others in the vehicle escaped.

Though it has stopped raining, it has not stopped flooding, and as water moves across the state, different regions will be endangered until the water finally recedes.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin tweeted his appreciation for citizens like LaMotte who have helped one another.

"Been a trying few days but our city has shined," his tweet said. "I've been so inspired seeing neighbor helping neighbor and strangers lifting each other up."

The Christian Science Monitor reported Benjamin's warning that the city's struggles are not over. "I believe that things will get worse before they get better," he said in a briefing.

"Eventually the floods will abate, but then we have to assess the damage, and I anticipate that damage will probably be in the billions of dollars, and we're going to have to work to rebuild. Some people's lives as they know them will never be the same."

Benjamin wants people to remember that they have a long way to go before Columbia will be safe again.