Updated October 5
The devastation of the last year’s historic October 4 flood is still fresh in our minds as South Carolina braces for the Category 4 Hurricane Matthew. The effects of the storm are expected to be felt along the Southeastern coast this weekend.
I remember the night before the flood perfectly. I stopped by the coffee counter at Columbia’s Whole Foods on Devine St. for a smoothie late that Saturday night, while my husband picked up a few supplies for a lazy dinner.
It had been raining outside, but the weather was unassuming, offering no hint of impending calamity. The man at the counter said officials were warning residents of anticipated heavy rainfall. I dismissed what I thought was mindless chit chat about the weather.
Just a few hours later and a few blocks from where I had stood, flood waters spilled over the bank of the swollen Gill’s Creek nearby, crushing several low-lying businesses and flooding others in the area. I heard later that some of the animals drowned at the neighborhood’s newly-opened PetSmart.
I awoke the next morning to find out that church had been cancelled. I considered it an overreaction.
I checked my Twitter account to find out what was going on and immediately got lost in the news. Someone shared a picture of a dumpster being swept along Rosewood. I knew our city wouldn’t be the same for a long time to come.
Some of us lost loved ones. Some of us, homes and businesses. Some of us lost parts of our city.
We found out later that day that some friends lost their home in the flood. A journalist I knew had been displaced. My in-laws’ Columbia-area neighborhood had been hit hard, also.
Water breached the bank of a nearby creek and flowed into their yard. They were on edge during the early morning hours, pet beagle in tow, debating whether to stay or to leave for higher ground. Rising water swirled in the street in front of their house that morning.
The flood claimed their floor and their landscape, but other neighbors were less fortunate. During the weeks after the flood, neighbors
tossed soggy furniture onto the curb. The stuff of people’s lives—heirlooms, household necessities and luxuries—had been collected over lifetimes and destroyed in just a night. One house looked like it had been gutted.
I walked through a small section of the neighborhood after the flood. News vans and cameras peppered the areas that had been hardest hit, combing the neighborhood for stories of loss and of neighborly kindness in response.
Debris lined the creek bank. One neighbor lost a wheelbarrow, I noted.
Also strange was the devastation to our city.
I ventured out the Tuesday after the flood. I wasn’t covering the disaster, so I didn’t need to get out any earlier.
Video after video showed roads disintegrating after cars drove over them. The sight was unbelievable. But after looking at the water levels on Tuesday, I understood.
Flood waters spilled over the Congaree River, climbing the bank and threatening to flood the bridges at Blossom and Gervais streets. The walking trail below, where I had escaped for numerous after-dinner strolls with friends and family, was submerged days after the flood.
The nearby Columbia Canal was breached, leaving residents across Columbia without water. Day and night I heard helicopters from the S.C. National Guard working to prevent further devastation along the canal for several days after the flood.
A year later as Hurricane Matthew barrels toward our coastline, the people most affected by the flood are still recovering.
October flood costs–
-Total costs reached $1 billion in damage by June 30
-20,000-plus displaced people
-1,500-plus water rescues
-$741 million in housing losses
-$76 million in crop losses
-$137 million in damage to state-owned roads