Columbia Man Survived October Dam Failure Flood with Help From a Friend
October’s historic floods left property and homes ruined for hundreds in South Carolina. For some it was worse: several victims drowned, trapped in their cars. Howard Bickley was nearly one of them. At 6 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 4, he found himself trapped in a sinking car after unexpectedly encountering a wall of water from a dam break nearby. Bickley remained calm and waited for the water to rise in his car to equal the pressure from outside. He escaped the car and swam many yards in the dark, in a cold, fast current that took its toll, and as he clung to a gate amid rising water at the entrance to his neighborhood, he wondered what would come next. Fortunately, it was his neighbor, Dale Longacre. The friends tell their tale in today’s segment, which also contains advice from the Richland County Sheriff’s Department on how to deal with a similar situation.
Dale Longacre awoke October 4 thinking he would get an early start to Sunday. It’s going to be a rainy day, he thought as he left for his house at 5:30a.m. The night before, a rogue storm system from Hurricane Joaquin had dropped more than 12 inches of rain. Longacre drove toward the gated community’s exit and, “as I came over the crest of the hill,” he recalls, “I saw water on the road.”
Should I try?
I’m not going to try.
You know, I’m already dressed, and I’m up.
“So I grabbed my waders on, got back in the car, and drove back out, with the idea that I would walk out in the water and see how deep it was.”
Longacre went back to water’s edge, exited his car, and wadded out into the street. “What really surprised me was the flow of the water… damn, this water’s cold.”
About that time, a car was speeding over the crest of hill, and unaware of the flooded street, drove directly into the water. In the car was Howard Brickely, his neighbor.
“I left the house at 6:15 to go work,” Brickely recalls, “I got two and a half blocks from my house near the exit gate, and, long story short, I ended up in eight to ten feed of water.” It was still dark, and past rain events hadn’t inundated that road, at least not in recent memory.
Brickely threw his Jeep into reverse, but by that point, the rushing current was pulling his car into deeper water. He waited as the cabin filled with cold flood waters, remembering that he would not be able to open the door until the interior pressure was equal the exterior pressure. He waited. Water up to his chin, he took a deep breath, pressed his legs into the center console, and opened the door.
He swam to the guard post at exit where he thought of waiting out the event, but, “Dale [Longacre] was afraid that the water was gonna continue to rise and it would get so high I’d be swept into the woods, so he swam out to me.”
Longacre swan with Brickely in tow to the back of the guard house, fighting the current with every stroke. They made it shallower waters, and eventually they crawled onto the pavement.
A few hours after the ordeal, Longacre drove back to the scene with this wife to show her where and what had happened. Hours after pulling his neighbor, the flood’s waters had receded and were gone.