Letter from America: South Carolina’s Floods

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‘Surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance’ (Psalm 32:6-7).

Bible passages like these became incredibly relevant in the light of October 2015’s flooding that hit South Carolina (SC). Meteorologists called it ‘unprecedented and historical’ (Dr Marshall Shepherd, University of Georgia). One article described it as ‘a 1000-year rain event — meaning, in a given year, there is a 1 in 1000 chance of observing rainfall totals of this magnitude’.

Whatever the experts may say, those that lived through it can tell you they’ve never seen anything like it. The rain that issued from the storm system fell to levels of over 20 inches in some places.

Hurricane Joaquin

Columbia, SC’s capital city, was hit the hardest, and 24 hours of steady rainfall caused dams to burst and river surges that meant thousands losing their homes. Nineteen died in SC alone as a result of the flooding.

So how did it all begin? As it usually does, it all began with a hurricane. By the end of September, Hurricane Joaquin was wreaking havoc in the Caribbean, sitting just off the Bahamas, and creating lots of rain for the southern US.

Storms like these are fairly common in the southeastern United States and don’t cause that much concern, unless one is headed straight for you. Having grown up on the Georgia coast, I was quite used to ‘hurricane season’ and had seen my fair share of heavy rains. I never thought though that I would live in a natural disaster area.

As the rains continued to pour across the southeast as a result of a cold front, Hurricane Joaquin sat in the Bahamas soaking up more moisture. As it slowly moved parallel to the US coast, the storm system interacted with the cold front and sent rain straight into SC.

On the radar it almost looked like Hurricane Joaquin shot an arm out and socked SC with a one-two punch. These ‘training bands’ or slow moving areas of rain dumped massive amounts of rain on SC and much of the southeast in a matter of three days.

The steady rain began in earnest on Friday 2 October, causing much flooding in the low country areas of SC. Three flood-related deaths were confirmed by the evening of 3 October. The flooding had overtaken Charleston’s historic district, causing everything to come to a standstill.

Floods

By Saturday evening, the SC highway patrol had reported 500 traffic accidents and closed 104 roads. But the rain was far from over. It continued soaking SC through the night and, by early Sunday morning, the floodwaters had overtaken Columbia.

Combined with the rain and the rising levels of rivers and creeks, many low lying areas were flooded. In one particular area, a creek (Gills Creek) burst its bounds and flooded a huge residential and shopping area along Garner’s Ferry road. Many restaurants, including one I had dined at the day before, were flooded over 3-feet deep.

Cars were getting washed away as their drivers scrambled to get out of them. Rescue workers from around the south came to help and were busy round the clock, rescuing flood victims in boats as the waters continued to rise.

Early that morning, as I rose to prepare for church, I received texts from my dad, the pastor of my church, that its services were cancelled due to the flooding. I had no idea what was going on in the area, due to a poor TV signal, so I decided to explore. Although I never saw the actual flood waters, I did watch the news in a local restaurant and was dumbfounded at the damage the flooding caused.

As the waters rose by Garner’s Ferry, other areas were hit horribly. The water levels in a nearby reservoir continued to rise, which meant that more water had to be let out of the dam. With horns and sirens blazing, they released water from the floodgates into the lower Saluda River, the first time they had done so in 46 years.

Extensive damage

As the rising waters rushed downriver, citizens living near that area were evacuated and many homes close to the river were flooded. Those waters also caused a breach in the Columbia Canal and Water Works, the source of Columbia’s drinking water. As a result, a boil water advisory was put on the area (it lasted for a week in some areas).

Areas like Forest Acres, a huge, beautiful residential area near downtown Columbia, were hit by rising waters in local lakes. Dams burst, causing hundreds of families to lose their homes. Even at the time of writing (a month after the flood), residents are still assessing the damage and cleaning up their homes.

While some areas of SC were hardly hit by the floods (such as the upstate), other areas like Columbia and Mount Pleasant were hit with 18-24 inches of rain, which caused major destruction over the next couple of days.

Clarendon County, a remote county only accessed by a few major roads, was impacted so badly that its sheriff called it ‘an island’. This flood remains one of the most catastrophic events in South Carolina’s history.

As the weather cleared up on 5 October, the waters continued to wreak havoc on Columbia. This resulted in the displacement of hundreds of families and billions of dollars in damage. President Obama issued a disaster declaration and the National Guard stepped in to help rebuild broken dams and rescue those affected.

Prayer

While the damage caused by the flood was catastrophic, the light of the gospel shined through the disaster as the displaced were helped by many. Churches from all over came to help clean out damaged homes, cook meals or provide supplies for the flood victims.

One of the government organisations, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), stepped in to provide assistance for those without the means to insure or rebuild their home. But due to the extensive damage, their efforts are still ongoing and many are still without disaster assistance.

Please continue to pray for South Carolina and those affected. It’s been at least one month now and many are still without homes. It will take many months, if not a year, to rebuild what the floods destroyed.

Please pray that the Lord will be glorified in the midst of it all and the gospel would be shared to those without hope. Please also pray for the families of those that died during the flood. We can praise the Lord that even in the midst of such darkness, the gospel was sown both in word and deed.

This article was first published on Evangelical Times in January 2016 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

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