Flood That Caused Fort Jackson Dam Break Resulted in Damaged Homes, Lawsuit
On the night of the flood, Rob Echols remembers hearing rushing water outside his house. At 5:20 am, he went downstairs and saw two feet of water in his dining room with more quickly rushing in. He gathered his five children and two dogs, preparing to find higher ground, until he saw the car floating down the driveway. "So, by that point, we knew we needed to get out of here. And the walls started shakin' and the floors started poppin," he says. His wife, Lisa, says they waded out the door, grabbing hold of some lounge chairs floating by, "then swam the rest of the way and walked up the hill, once we got on dry land, up to a friend’s house."
Rob remembers how quickly the water rose that morning. While still in his home, he says the water came up more than three feet in 15 minutes and it quickly got worse, "so probably from the creek bank to here, about 15 feet of water came up within just a few minutes. So no doubt in my mind it was a dam break scenario that caused flooding." He adds that normal floodwater should rise and then stay high, but this water receded completely by 9 a.m.
The Echolses' home is located in the King's Grant neighborhood, just a short walk from Fort Jackson where several dams are located. Lisa and Rob both blame the failure of the Semmes Dam for all the damage done to their neighborhood. Rob says despite that, no one has heard a word from Fort Jackson about the damage. They've since filed a lawsuit against the Fort, along with 25 of their neighbors.
The Echols lost all of their possessions in the flood, and hope to receive compensation from the Fort. Rob says, "if it was strictly Mother Nature that caused this, we'd all shake hands and go away. This is a dam that Fort Jackson has, that broke, and caused us all this hardship." He hopes not only to receive payment for the damages done, but an assurance that a dam breach will never happen again.
In 2013, the Army Corps of Engineers gave the Semmes dam the second to worst rating -- 'serious hazard'. In practice, the rating means a breach is possible under normal conditions. The Echolses' laywer, Pete Strom, has tried to obtain the inspection report under the Freedom of Information Act, but has been continually denied. The Corps says the report is a matter of national security.
Strom says he doesn't expect their day in court until the end of 2017. He says he's disappointed the situation has come to this. "I wish they'd shown up the next day and said 'Look our dams failed. We should have done something about it. We're the Federal government and we want to take care of you.'"
The Echolses are living in a rental home not far from King's Grant. They expect to be back home in a few months.