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South Carolina Lowcountry Begins To Dry Out After Severe Floods


Several days of rain in South Carolina have led to catastrophic flooding. At least 10 people have died, and tens of thousands are without water and power. Today, Governor Nikki Haley said that hundreds of roads and bridges are still closed across the state. Reporter Tim Fitzsimons has more from South Carolina's low country.

TIM FITZSIMONS, BYLINE: In the coastal areas north of Charleston, S.C., there isn't much of a difference in elevation between where people live and the ocean. When you ask about floods, everyone mentions that last big one.

CHUCK PUNMEO: Even after Hugo, it wasn't this bad.

FITZSIMONS: That's Chuck Punmeo. He's talking about Hurricane Hugo. But that 1989 storm was a direct hit Category 4 right on South Carolina's coast. But this storm was different.

PUNMEO: It just went right across South Carolina, almost the whole state. The upstate got a lot of rain too, and now all those rivers and stuff are coming towards the coast like they normally do. Now all the water's coming this way.

FITZSIMONS: Punmeo had just finished fording the two-foot-deep river that is Steed Creek Road today, one of countless flooded motorways across South Carolina. It's not advisable to drive across flooded roads, but Punmeo did it anyway.

PUNMEO: But I'll tell you what (laughter). I'm not going to go through that again. It's too deep.

FITZSIMONS: Just up the road in the small town of Huger - population 2,828, India Ferguson was taking stock of a road that just yesterday was much more flooded.

INDIA FERGUSON: I live down the road. I'm just looking to see how the roads look, to see if we can get through. I'm looking at this yard right here. I believe this water had to have been on their porch.

FITZSIMONS: She's right.

GERARD JENKINS: That's my house right there.

FITZSIMONS: That's Gerard Jenkins. Floodwaters came so fast overnight that both his cars were completely submerged. His house got flooded too, though a few feet of extra foundation probably saved it from even more damage.

JENKINS: So I had to get a boat to get out of my yard. And the bridge right next to us - that over spilled, came into our yard. So we had a river in our yard.

FITZSIMONS: Governor Nikki Haley today implored South Carolinians to stay home.


NIKKI HALEY: Just because the rain stops does not mean that we are out of the woods. We very much still have a vulnerable situation that's out there. I'm still going to ask citizens to please stay inside.

FITZSIMONS: She's saying that even as levels drop, the floodwaters are still tearing away at the undersides of roads and bridges. But the people of the coastal town of Georgetown are already out and working on repairing the flood damage. Kevin Jayroe is standing outside his shop, Bienvenue Home. Soaked furniture and rugs are scattered on the sidewalk. He and his crew are taking a break to have a slice of pizza as they try to dry out the inside of his store.

KEVIN JAYROE: Well, it's been about the same both days. We've come in to about 10 inches storewide both days.


JAYROE: Yeah, here. And our store's 4,000 square foot, so we've had water pouring in from the rain, not from the tide. This is day two of us vacuuming and pumping out the storm.

FITZSIMONS: The reason for that, he says, and the reason for much of the flooding in South Carolina is that there's nowhere for the water to go. After nearly two feet of rain over a few days across the state, the soil is saturated. The rivers are overflowing, and the sewers in places like Georgetown are backed up.

JAYROE: We'll just start business up, get fans on it and dry it and start it up. We've just got to get the town back up and going.

FITZSIMONS: But it might take days still. The high waters surging through the state's waterways are predicted to stay high until midweek. Tim Fitzsimons, NPR News, Georgetown, S.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.