CONWAY—Hurricane Florence may be gone, but the massive amount of rain it brought is still causing misery, destruction, unprededented flooding and impassable roads in the Carolinas.
In South Carolina, Horry County and the Pee Dee region continue to deal with record-breaking river flooding. The storm has caused 42 deaths, with 31 in North Carolina, nine in South Carolina and two in Virginia.
Evacuations have taken place along multiple rivers, including the Great Pee Dee, Little Pee Dee, Waccamaw, Lumber and Lynches. Much of downtown Conway in Horry County is under water, along with neighborhoods in the Socastee area, in Longs and Loris along S.C. 9 and in other communities in the rural western part of the county. The Marion County town of Nichols, which was completely flooded by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, is under water again.
And the rivers continue to swell.
As of noon on Sept. 24, Georgetown County became the latest place to receive evacuation orders in flood zones along the Waccamaw and Pee Dee rivers, and the Intracoastal Waterway as Florence’s floodwaters continue to push south. Hundreds of people are being housed in shelters, hotels, and resorts offering low rates, or are staying with family.
The Waccamaw River in Conway is expected to reach a record-breaking crest by Sept. 25. As a result, it could displace thousands of residents of inland Horry County communities. Officials estimate as many as 8,000 additional people in Georgetown County could be affected.
Traffic has been brought to a standstill in Horry County while flood control barriers are built along U.S. 501, and U.S. 17 in Georgetown has been reduced to two lanes.
The snarled traffic has made relief work a big challenge, according to Kelly Kaminski, director of disaster services for Catholic Charities. The agency has been working steadily to help meet the needs of the storm’s victims in Horry County.
On Sept. 20, the agency’s mobile unit distributed food, water and personal hygiene items to 153 people in the Loris area. They also were able to find temporary housing in a hotel for a client and her family, who is in their pregnancy care program, after their house flooded.
“We are distributing what we can, but it has been hard to get things in and out of Horry County,” Kaminski said. “We had a couple of warehouses picked out to store large shipments of supplies, but they have flooded and we currently don’t have safe places to store anything except our Conway office.”
Kaminski said travel around the area near Conway has been difficult. On one day it took her 90 minutes to go 4.5 miles. She also is seeking additional storage for supplies.
St. Mary Our Lady of Ransom Church at 317 Broad St. in Georgetown is directly in the line of possible flooding. Sandbagging efforts were under way to protect the church building itself, the office and the rectory, according to Father Richard Wilson, parish administrator. St. Cyprian Outreach Center at 1905 West Front St. is also in the line of flooding. Father Wilson said the two Daughters of Charity sisters who staff the center have living quarters on the second floor of the building, so at least that area would be spared from the water. Preparations are ongoing and will depend on the flooding forecast, which changes constantly.
Father Wilson said he currently has no plans to evacuate but would stay with parishioners if he had to leave. Daily noon Mass was going on as scheduled at St. Mary Our Lady of Ransom.
“The main thing we are doing right now is preparing and praying to God that maybe He will intercede and spare us from these floodwaters,” Father Wilson said.
Flood waters have also blocked access roads to Holy Trinity School in Longs, which serves 86 students in pre-K through eighth grade. Principal Karen Luzzo said the extent of flooding is worse than what the school experienced after Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Water is covering both Livingstones Lane, where the campus is located, and Star Bluff Road, the main access road adjacent to the school off S.C. 90.
Holy Trinity students are now divided between two locations. An initial satellite campus was set up at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in North Myrtle Beach. Soon after that, rising floodwaters along S.C. 9 blocked students and faculty who lived in Loris from getting to North Myrtle Beach, so another campus was set up in borrowed facilities at Loris Presbyterian Church.
This arrangement will likely continue for quite a while until the floodwaters recede, Luzzo said.
“I can’t be more blessed by the faculty and students we have,” she said. “They are being flexible and positive and doing whatever they have to do. The kids have stayed positive and happy. We’re being tested but we are trying to count our blessings.”
Full effects of flooding on parishes and other facilities in the Pee Dee area and in Georgetown County still had not been determined as of press time. As of Sept. 24, several claims related to the storm had been filed, according to Eric Meister, Catholic Mutual’s claims risk manager for the Diocese of Charleston. Damage reports include roof leaks at St. Mary Church in Rock Hill and St. Martin de Porres Church in Columbia, two sheds blown over at St. John Neumann Church in Columbia, a roof leak at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton High School in Myrtle Beach, and light poles blown down at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in North Myrtle Beach. There also were reports of wind damage to the education building at St. Louis Church in Dillon, but that had yet to be confirmed.
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone has authorized a second collection to assist those affected by Florence in both Carolinas. It will take place as soon as possible in parishes.
Kaminski said monetary donations are the best way to help Catholic Charities’ efforts, especially in assisting people who need to repair their houses after the flooding. Those who want to donate can visit www.charitiessc.org/donate or text “Disaster” to 555888.
Catholic Charities is also asking for donations of gift cards to stores such as Walmart, Target, Lowe’s and Home Depot. Cases of water, tarps, baby items, adult diapers, non-perishable food items, trash bags, sunscreen, bug spray and cleaning supplies are also needed.
For more information about Catholic Charities of South Carolina’s efforts to assist victims of Hurricane Florence, click the following links:
Top photo, Keith Jacobs/Miscellany: Members of the U.S. Coast Guard paddle though Socastee neighborhoods doing wellness checks and patrolling evacuated streets on Sept. 24.