The city of Georgetown may get a bit of a reprieve as Hurricane’s Florence’s flood waters make a final push before heading out to sea. Georgetown County officials now say an updated flood anticipation map from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources shows a much improved forecast and is encouraging people who have evacuated to take a look and decide if it’s safe to return. That certainly was not the case a couple of days ago.
The historic riverfront braced for as much as ten feet in floodwaters earlier this week. Shop owners packed up their inventory and put out sandbags in front of doors. Restaurant owners filled giant trailers with equipment.
“We’ve moved all the refrigeration out,” said Debra Woodworth helping a friend who owns Harborside Restaurant Seafood and Italian. “We’ve got all our furniture and chairs out. We’ve got food out. We’ve done the best we can.”
What she couldn’t pack up were her emotions. “Absolutely, I’m holding back the tears.”
South Carolina National Guard helicopters buzzed overhead. “Yeah, it kind of looks like a war zone,” said Wilma Shelley. She’s lived in Georgetown for 40 years and said she’s never seen such a flurry of people packing up and moving out.
Members of the National Guard spent the weekend building a floating, movable bridge to ferry emergency supplies across the Sampit River in case other bridges across the area washed out. The South Carolina Department of Transportation put up portable dams filled with water in case flood waters shut down Highway 17, a major coastal evacuation route. The local hospital moved patients to Waccamaw and SCE&G turned off gas for several blocks.
About an hour north, the community of Conway is still struggling after being inundated with Florence's flood waters. Hundreds evacuated, including the Ballew family. They're staying at a shelter at the city's recreation center. The water was coming in quickly when they fled and they believe it will likely be chest deep.
"The hardwood floors and stuff was just coming up," said Bob Ballew. "It's just destroying everthing that you worked so hard for."
It's not just how much water, but what's in the water that poses problems. Officials say a wastewater treatment plant in Conway has been overwhelmed by flooding and is no longer working. So, potentially hazardous materials are spilling into a waterway that flows into the Waccamaw River, which runs through town. The State Department of Health and Human Services is warning people to avoid contact with the water, especially downstream.
The Georgetown County Government's Deputy Public Information Officer is also concerned about potential water contamination issues there. Again, Georgetown is the final stop for flood water that have ravaged hundreds of miles.
"You don't know what is in the water," Randy Akers said. "It could be contaminated. It could have some oil, some human waste in it or dead animals and things like that. You could become very sick just from being in contact with the water."
Just how much water Georgetown will get, where it will go and how long it will stick around are still unknown. But the floodwaters from Hurricane Florence two weeks ago are expected to begin impacting the area this weekend.