Nichols: One Year Later, Residents Continue to Recover, But Where Will Businesses Rebound?
About 75 families have returned to repaired homes in Nichols, South Carolina. The small town in Marion County was home to 260 homes before Hurricane Matthew brought strong winds and devastating floods in 2016. All but three sustained flood damage and most businesses were also impacted. South Carolina Public Radio spoke with Mayor Lawson Battle and Disaster Recovery Advisor Rita Pratte about progress in recovery, one year after Matthew.
“It’s a slow process, but we are doing pretty well compared to other areas,” Mayor Lawson Battle said. Recovery for the town’s residents is aided by the South Carolina Disaster Recovery Office (SCDRO). The office oversees the $96 million allocated for the 24 counties impacted by Hurricane Matthew, which includes Marion County. But the town also has its own recovery program. The town works with Palmetto Disaster Recovery case management to systematically identify residents with unmet housing needs. 13 households have completed recovery plans through the town’s programs and more are under construction.
“They have eight that are currently under construction, so 22 homes should be served; most of them by the end of October,” Disaster Recovery Advisor Rita Pratte said. Some bigger projects will extend through December and January.
Nichols Welcomes Another Flood-Displaced Family Home
The town did not plan any special commemorative events to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the storm and flood.
"That was a tragic day for this town. It's something they didn't expect to happen and I think emotionally and mentally, they're still not recovered," Pratte said. Instead, the town hosted another welcome home party. "I am excited to welcome that family home. They are the second home in our owner occupied housing program to be completed," Pratte added.
Half of the town’s businesses have reopened, but the downtown business district remains empty.
"The whole downtown section, where the majority of the businesses were would have to be raised, some of it three and a half to four feet, to get it back to new code," Battle said.
The new code refers to FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Disaster Recovery Advisor Pratte, explains how the code impacts rebuilding. "FEMA would require that a homeowner elevate should their flood repairs total over 50% of the assessed value of their house. This would be to protect tax dollars in the instance of repetitive loss. The homeowner would no longer be eligible for federal aid should they not comply."
Its the same situation many homeowners in the Midlands faced (and some continue to face) after the October 2015 flood.
Battle said the town is "working with the owners of the property to see what they want to do; to see what we can do to help." Questions like: will business owners try to relocated, will they raise their structures or will they abandon the property altogether still need to be answered, he said.
The mayor does think it would be impossible to raise some of the buildings. He cited the age of structures, the fact that many share structural walls and cost. In working with property owners, he said the town has some options it is considering, which includes moving the downtown area to higher land. He said it has been done in other places in similar situations.
"It really would be wonderful if we could make it work. And we are working on it all the time," Battle said. The mayor said the town has had a series of meetings to discuss possibilities for businesses, but reminds that "its going to be a long, hard process."