Continued flooding presents fresh chaos in South Carolina; Interstates 95 and 40 reopen in North Carolina
By Jeffrey Collins
YAUHANNAH, S.C. — More than a week ago, Pastor Willie Lowrimore and some of his congregants stacked sandbags around their South Carolina church to protect it from the fury of Hurricane Florence.
They moved the pews to higher ground and watched anxiously for days as the nearly black, reeking water from the swollen Waccamaw River rose, even though the hurricane was long gone. Finally, before dawn Monday, the water seeped around and over the sandbags, flooding the sanctuary.
“I’m going to go one day at a time,” Lowrimore said as he sat in a rocking chair listening to the river rush by, ruining the church he built almost 20 years ago. “Put it in the Lord’s hands. My hands aren’t big enough.”
Ten days after Florence came ashore, the storm caused fresh chaos Monday in Yauhannah and elsewhere across South Carolina, where rivers kept rising and thousands more people were told to be ready to evacuate.
Authorities urged as many as 8,000 people in Georgetown County, on the South Carolina coast, to be prepared to flee from potential flood zones. A “record event” of as much as 10 feet of flooding was expected to begin Tuesday near parts of the Pee Dee and Waccamaw rivers, county spokeswoman Jackie Broach-Akers said.
Places along the waterfront in Georgetown were predicted to flood for the first time since record keeping began before the American Revolution.
“We are still getting phone calls from people who don’t know what is going on,” said Georgetown County Emergency Management Director Sam Hodge.
In North Carolina, where Florence made landfall, Gov. Roy Cooper said the state is moving from an emergency response mode to full-time recovery from the storm.
“Florence is gone, but the storm’s devastation is still with us,” Cooper said at a news conference.
About 400 roads across the state remained closed because of the storm, which has claimed at least 46 lives since slamming into the coast Sept. 14.
But there was some good news: Interstate 95 was reopened to all traffic Sunday night for the first time since the floods, and Cooper announced Monday that a previously closed part of Interstate 40 had reopened sooner than expected.
Power outages and the number of people in shelters are also declining. Around 5,000 people were without power, down from a peak of about 800,000. About 2,200 people were in shelters, compared with a high of about 20,000, the governor said.
On Monday, Republican education leaders in North Carolina announced planned legislation to assure teachers at still-shuttered schools they will get paid without using vacation time. The proposal was part of broader disaster funding that the General Assembly will consider in an anticipated special session.
The full impact of Hurricane Florence on North Carolina’s public high schools and grade schools was still unclear.
North Carolina Public Schools spokesman Drew Elliot said the unofficial estimate was that 1.2 million of more than 1.5 million public school students in the state missed classes because of the storm. Officials sent a survey to schools to get a better sense of Florence’s full effect and hope to have better data by the end of the week, Elliot said.
In Washington, lawmakers considered almost $1.7 billion in new money for disaster relief and recovery, even as they face a deadline this week to fund the government before the Oct. 1 start of the new budget year.
The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee said the money would be available as grants to states to help rebuild housing and public works and to assist businesses. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey called it “a first round” and said lawmakers are ready to act quickly if the federal disaster relief agency also needs more money.
The economic research firm Moody’s Analytics estimated that Florence has caused around $44 billion in damage and lost output, which would make it one of the 10 costliest U.S. hurricanes. The worst disaster, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, cost $192.2 billion in today’s dollars. Last year’s Hurricane Harvey cost $133.5 billion.