South Carolina flood death toll climbs to 17; weakening dams threaten communities

Reuters

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.

Emergency responders in Richland County, a hard-hit area in the central part of the state, recovered the bodies of two people missing after a truck driven around road barriers was caught in floodwater, said Lieutenant Curtis Wilson.

Three other people in the truck escaped, Wilson said.

The death toll from the widespread storm that dumped more than 2 feet (60 cm) of rain in parts of South Carolina is at least 17, including people who drowned or were killed in car crashes.

On Tuesday, the capital city of Columbia saw its first day without rain since Sept. 23, according to the National Weather Service. The city had its wettest days on record over the weekend when about 11 inches of rain fell, the weather service said.

Fears that a dam might breach and swamp their Columbia neighborhood pushed Melissa Harrington, 56, and her 78-year-old sister to seek shelter at a local high school, where more than 100 people slept overnight on cots in a gymnasium.

“We thought better safe than sorry,” Harrington said. “I know that God would protect us, but I’d rather not get a ladder and perch atop the house if I can help it.”

Hundreds more arrived at the school on Wednesday for free cases of water after the storm left thousands of homes with no water or contaminated supplies.

“My dad went to three stores looking for water before he gave up,” said Townes Holland, 15. “Everyone is flat out.”

Thirteen dams have failed and about 270 state-maintained roads and 140 bridges have been closed, officials said. Weather forecasters said major river flooding could continue through the weekend even though the rains have stopped.

South Carolina’s Low Country remains a chief concern as water flows across the state into engorged rivers and creeks. Governor Nikki Haley told a news conference that more evacuations were possible in a number of eastern counties.

“Things are getting better in the Midlands,” she said. “Things are about to get worse on the coast.”

The University of South Carolina, where classes were canceled for the week, has moved Saturday’s scheduled football game against Louisiana State University to Baton Rouge.