Historic South Carolina Floods: Heavy Rain, Hundreds Rescued

The Gilmer Free Press

COLUMBIA, SC — Hundreds were rescued from fast-moving floodwaters Sunday in South Carolina as days of driving rain hit a dangerous crescendo that buckled buildings and roads, closed a major East Coast interstate route and threatened the drinking water supply for the capital city.

The powerful rainstorm dumped more than a foot of rain overnight on Columbia, swamping hundreds of businesses and homes. Emergency workers waded into waist-deep water to help people trapped in cars, dozens of boats fanned out to rescue others in flooded neighborhoods and some were plucked from rooftops by helicopters.

With so much water, officials said it could take weeks or even months to assess every road and bridge that’s been closed around the state. Several interstates around Columbia were closed, and so was a 75-mile stretch of Interstate 95 that is a key route connecting Miami to Washington, D.C. and New York.

“This is different than a hurricane because it is water, it is slow moving and it is sitting. We can’t just move the water out,“ Gov. Nikki Haley said at a news conference.

One death was reported in the area on Sunday, bringing weather-related deaths to seven since the storm began days earlier. The system drenching South Carolina was part of an unusual combination of weather conditions involving a slow-crawling low pressure system meteorologists called unusually deep for this time of year.

People were told to stay off roads and remain indoors until floodwaters recede, and an overnight curfew was issued for Columbia and across two surrounding counties. The capital city told all 375,000 of its water customers to boil water before drinking because of water line breaks and the threat of rising water to a treatment plant. Emergency officials said later Sunday that many in Columbia were without potable water because of water main breaks and customers may have to go without drinking water for three or four days. Meanwhile, nearly 30,000 customers were without power at one point.

Local officials counted several hundred water rescues by mid-morning before Columbia Fire Chief Aubry Jenkins said in an interview that there were too many rescues to keep count.

“We’re just trying to get to everyone,“ Jenkins said. “But there are places we just haven’t gotten to.“

One of the hardest hit areas in Columbia was near Gills Creek, where a weather station recorded more than 18 inches of rain – or more than a third of the city’s average yearly rainfall – nearly all of it in 24 hours. The creek was 10 feet above flood stage, spilling floodwaters that almost reached the stoplights at a four-lane intersection.

State forecasters said another 2-6 inches could fall around the state, and it could be Tuesday before skies are sunny.

Vladimir Gorrin said he led his 57-year-old aunt through floodwaters about 7 feet deep surrounding her apartment near Gills Creek. He said his aunt, Wanda Laboy, waited several hours after calling 911, so family came to help.

“She’s very distressed right now,“ said Gorrin, 38. “She lost everything.“

His aunt, who didn’t appear to be injured, was heading with her nephew to his house in an unflooded area of Columbia, he said.

“I’m trying to find my way back home, and every road that we’ve taken is blocked or flooded,“ he said in a phone interview.

Emergency shelters were being opened around the state for displaced residents, and President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in South Carolina.

Along the coast, rainfall had exceeded two feet since Friday in some areas around Charleston, though conditions had improved enough that residents and business owners were allowed downtown on a limited basis.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said he’s never seen flooding as bad in his 40 years as mayor.

“This was a record storm,“ he said. “You know the amount of rainfall that we have experienced is unprecedented. I feel very fortunate that we were able to get through this as well as we have.“

At least seven weather-related deaths have been reported since rains began spreading over the Eastern Seaboard, which appeared to dodge the full brunt of Hurricane Joaquin as it veered out to sea.

The latest death reported was a woman killed when her SUV was swept into flood waters in Columbia. Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said the woman’s body was found Sunday afternoon, about 12 hours after she disappeared in flood waters near downtown Columbia.

Three people died in separate weather-related traffic accidents in South Carolina on Friday and Saturday, the Highway Patrol said. In North Carolina, a driver died on a rain-slickened road on Saturday, according to that state’s Highway Patrol. On Thursday, a woman drowned in her car in Spartanburg, South Carolina, while a passenger in a vehicle in North Carolina was killed when a tree fell on a highway.

In Florence, about 80 miles east of Columbia, Mary Gainey was told Sunday about an evacuation order for her neighborhood along a rising creek. “I’ve been rushing around, making sure I have everything I need,“ said the 65-year-old Gainey.

She’s going to stay at her daughter’s house until the water recedes.

“This is the first time we’ve had to be evacuated,“ she said. “It’s strange leaving everything behind.“

Officials were imposing a 12-hour curfew across Richland and Lexington counties.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott called it a common-sense curfew. Anyone not facing an emergency situation needs to stay off the roads between 6 p.m. Sunday and 6 a.m. Monday. He says law enforcement officers “will stop you and make you go home or somewhere else.“ He stresses that “this is not a time for anybody to be a spectator.“

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin says anyone who doesn’t take the flooding seriously risks not only their lives, but the lives of first responders. He says flooding levels are difficult enough to judge in the daytime.

Other cities across the Midlands have also issued curfews. Sumter has announced a curfew of 7 p.m.Sunday to 7 p.m. Monday.

Picturesque French Riviera Hit By Deadly Flash Floods

The Gilmer Free Press

ANTIBES, France — In a matter of minutes, torrential rains transformed the postcard-perfect French Riviera into a terrifying flood zone, leaving at least 16 dead, trapping hundreds of ailing pilgrims and halting car and train traffic Sunday along the mud-drenched Mediterranean coast.

Victims were found dead in a retirement home, campsites, and cars submerged in a tunnel. Residents, stunned by the ferocity of the brief downpour Saturday night, described it as the worst flooding they’d ever seen – so dramatic that President Francois Hollande paid an emergency visit Sunday to promise government aid for victims.

Helicopters patrolled the area and 27,000 homes were without electricity Sunday after rivers and streams overflowed their banks and fierce thunderstorms poured more than 6.7 inches of rain in Cannes and some other areas, according to the Interior Ministry. The Cannes region saw the equivalent of two months of rainfall in less than two hours, local radio France Bleu-Azur reported.

Hollande said the overall death toll by midday Sunday was 16, with three still missing. Government officials gave conflicting reports about casualty figures throughout the day, as emergency services fanned out across the region to check homes, stores and overturned cars for victims.

“It’s not over,“ Hollande said, visiting the flood-stricken retirement home in the town of Biot and meeting with emergency workers.

He expressed condolences to families of victims and urged residents to remain cautious, especially on the region’s roads, many of which remained impassable Sunday. He promised aid for residents hit by the flooding and lamented serious damage to local stores and other businesses.

Some residents criticized authorities for not doing more to prevent flood damage in the region, which is prized by tourists and residents for its mild year-round climate but which has seen increasing flooding in recent years. Local firefighters and meteorologists said the amount of rain Saturday was unusual for the region this time of year, but were especially shocked by the intensity and speed of the storm.

People were found dead in the towns of Cannes, Biot, Golfe-Juan and Mandelieu-la-Napoule in the southeast, the president’s office said.

Three elderly people were killed in the retirement home, Hollande said. Three others were found dead in their car after entering a flooded tunnel, authorities in Golfe-Juan said. Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said the dead included victims who had been trapped in a parking lot and campsites.

Winds and rain whipped palm trees along the famed Croisette seaside promenade in Cannes. Some cars parked near the Cannes shore were swept away and overturned by high waves.

In nearby Antibes, campsites along the Brague River were suddenly inundated with muddy water, leaving cars overturned.

Several trains were stopped because of flooded tracks, and traffic remained stopped along the Mediterranean coast between Nice and Toulon all day Sunday. Several roads were closed.

Some 2,500 Italian pilgrims – many of them sick and disabled – were among those stuck on trains. They had travelled to the Marian shrine in Lourdes, where the Catholic faithful often go seeking cures for ailments, and were en route back to Italy on five special pilgrim trains when the storm hit.

Several of the stalled trains carried specially-outfitted hospital-style cars, able to accommodate people on stretchers. Unitalsi, an Italian group that brings the sick and disabled to Lourdes, said the pilgrims were generally in good health and spirits though officials expressed some concern for dialysis patients if the delays stretched on.

“The sick are being cared for and their trip has been going on for 15 hours, but thanks to the help of all the volunteers on board the situation is under control,“ the head of Unitalsi, Salvatore Pagliuca, said in a statement.

The Italian Foreign Ministry said it had mobilized its embassy in Paris and consulates in Nice and Marseille to get the Italians home. After several hours of delay, the five trains resumed their trip home, Unitalsi said on its Facebook page. Some had a long way to go as they were destined for Puglia and Sicily in Italy’s south.

Pope Francis offered his prayers for the victims during his weekly Sunday blessing from St. Peter’s Square.

“We express our nearness to the hard-hit populations, including with concrete forms of solidarity,“ he said.

The flooding also disrupted a French league soccer match in Nice, forcing the stadium to shut down in the middle of play.

Hundreds of emergency workers were involved in rescue efforts Sunday, helped by bright sun contrasting sharply with the sinister skies the night before.

Typhoon Roars Into South China; Tens Of Thousands Evacuated

The Gilmer Free Press

BEIJING, CHINA — A strong typhoon roared into southern China on Sunday, bringing powerful winds and heavy rain to the region after leaving one dead and 30 fishermen missing in the Philippines.

Nearly 200,000 people in southern China were evacuated before Typhoon Mujigae made landfall near the city of Zhanjiang in Guangdong province just after 2 p.m., according to the National Meteorological Center.

By 7:00 p.m., its center was located about 285 miles west of Hong Kong and moving steadily inland.

The center had already issued a red alert – China’s highest level of weather preparedness – warning that as much as 11 inches of rain could fall in some places from Sunday morning to Monday morning.

As of Sunday evening, there were no reports of injuries or damage from the storm.

Packing winds of 112 miles per hour at its center, Mujigae – “rainbow” in Korean – was moving northwest at about 12 mph, the meteorological center said.

The typhoon lashed both Guangdong and the resort island province of Hainan, where thousands of Chinese have flocked during the weeklong National Day holiday that runs through Wednesday. It is expected to weaken as it heads further inland over the next two days.

Scores of flights in and out of Hainan’s main airport in the provincial capital of Haikou have been canceled, and high-speed rail service between Haikou and the tourist center of Sanya was suspended Saturday and Sunday.

More than 60,000 fishing boats returned to port in the two provinces and more than 40,000 fishermen working on fish farms moved to shelters, according to the provincial government websites.

Meanwhile, upwards of 500 tourists were sheltering in hotels in Guangdong’s Fangji island after attempts to evacuate them were disrupted by high winds, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Mujigae, the 22nd typhoon of the year, blew out of the northern Philippines early Saturday, causing floods and a few landslides and leaving 30 fishermen missing, said regional Office of Civil Defense spokesman Mike Sabado.

Nearly 200 fishermen had been reported missing at the height of the storm, mostly from the provinces of Pangasinan and La Union, but most sailed back home after taking shelter or were rescued at sea.

What Could Happen Even If Joaquin Doesn’t Hit

The Gilmer Free Press

Hurricane Joaquin remains a Category 4 storm that’s currently battering the Bahamas, but the East Coast may dodge one bullet this weekend if the storm keeps to its offshore path, and CNN report. Tracking maps show Joaquin solidly out in the Atlantic and set to keep veering away from the coastline. Still, coastal states may not escape serious weather—though not entirely due to Joaquin. The Washington Post explains a “a predecessor surge of moisture [is] streaming up the eastern seaboard” right now; CNN reports Joaquin is funneling moisture into that weather system. The result: rain and flooding. The Post frames the latter as a “major concern,“ and CNN meteorologist Rachel Aissen predicts the flooding in South Carolina could be “historic.“

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has declared a state of emergency, as have the governors of North Carolina, Virginia, and New Jersey. Aissen notes that while the storm could still shift back to shore, chances are if it keeps out to sea into Friday evening, it will stay there. (Don’t be a “social media-rologist” and makes these five weather-prediction mistakes mentioned by Forbes.)

Hurricane Joaquin

The Gilmer Free Press
The latest satellite image of Hurricane Joaquin from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Joaquin’s Path to Bring Heavy Moisture to West Virginia

The Gilmer Free Press

CHARLESTON, WV — The National Weather Service’s Charleston Bureau is keeping an eye on Hurricane Joaquin as it moves in from the Atlantic and takes aim at the eastern seaboard.  The storm is expected to strike the U.S. mainland in the New England area this weekend according to Meteorologist Michael Charnick at the Charleston Bureau.  However, it could impact West Virginia by reinforcing the system already stalled here.

“The effects we are going to see from the hurricane are going to be felt in the form of rainfall,” Charnick said. “There’s a stalled frontal boundary draped over the Appalachians and the Ohio Valley. This front is going to help pull in some Atlantic moisture and tropical moisture from the system.”

Joaquin should make for a soggy night of high school football as the storm is set to move across the state Friday night and stretch into Saturday morning.

“It’s going to give us heavy rainfall across pretty much the entire state, especially in areas of the southern and eastern counties,” he said. “It’s more of an indirect effect of the Hurricane.”

The system could produce 3 to 5 inches of rain along the Virginia border and into West Virginia’s eastern panhandle.  Mixed with heavy rain already received earlier in the week the storm carries the potential for stream flooding in those areas.

“There’s definitely a potential for flooding in southern and eastern areas of West Virginia where they saw a little more rainfall from that system which went through a few days ago,” said Charnick. “With Joaquin and the moisture associated with it those areas are going to see some very heavy rainfall.”

Charnick cautioned anyone living in a flood prone area near a stream to keep a sharp eye on water levels as the system arrived Friday night into Saturday.

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