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Storm forces closings across Midlands, knocks out water and power

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By Chuck Crumbo
ccrumbo@scbiznews.com
Published Oct. 4, 2015
Updated 8:40 a.m. Oct. 5, 2015

A weekend storm that soaked the Columbia area with more than a foot of rain knocked out power and water service to thousands of Midlands customers, prompting officials to shut down the town for at least today.

State, county and city offices in Lexington and Richland counties will be closed today and basic services such as trash pickup have been canceled. In addition, most public and private schools, as well as classes the University of South Carolina’s Columbia campus and all of Midlands Technical College, have been scratched.

Also, several businesses, including shopping malls, manufacturers and others, either delayed opening or closed for the day.

Three of the city’s hospitals — Palmetto Health Baptist and Richland, and Providence — are dealing with low water pressure and switched to contingency plans to care for patients. However, none was being evacuated, the S.C. Emergency Management Division reported this morning. At Baptist Hospital, a firetruck pumped water needed for the facility’s chill systems, such as air conditioner and refrigeration units.

The flooding created havoc for the area’s utilities.

S.C. Electric & Gas reported at 8 p.m. Monday about 8,500 customers in Richland County and nearly 1,700 in Lexington County were without power. Some 14,300 customers of 694,500 S.C. customers were without power, SCE&G said, adding that it could not offer an estimate of when the lights would be back on.

“Although crews are actively assessing all reported outages, some outages cannot be restored until roads become passable and/or floodwaters recede around power line bases,” the company said in a message posted on its website. “We care about your safety and the safety of our repair crews. Please stay away from downed power lines, and be aware of the potential dangers of electrical currents in flooded water.”

Businesses, schools, government offices as well as homeowners are being hampered by a major disruption in city of Columbia water service, which could last for days.

The city of Columbia reported that the Arcadia Lake, Forest Lake and Rhymer dams were breached as a result of unprecedented flooding, while a sinkhole was discovered in the 6800 block of North Main Street.

In Lexington, Old Mill Pond off Main Street (U.S. Highway 1) in downtown Lexington failed and a fallen tree blocked the roadway.

One of the worst-hit areas was a commercial area at the intersection of Devine Street, Garners Ferry Road and Fort Jackson. The flooding along Gills Creek swept through the recently opened
Rosewood Crossing, Bright-Meyers’ 98,100-square-foot retail redevelopment project anchored by Marshalls, PetSmart, and Michaels.

The area at Trenholm Road and Forest Drive also was hit hard by floods, claiming a frame store, pizza parlor and several shops at Forest Lake Shopping Center.

Multiple water main breaks left thousands of residents and businesses without water or loss of pressure, the department said Sunday night.

“The most impacted areas from the outage are greater downtown Columbia and southeast Richland County,” the department said.

As the city worked to repair and restore service, customers “should be prepared to potentially be without water service for three to four days,” according to agency, which said it would provide an update at about noon today.

The water department also issued a citywide boil water advisory on Sunday for its 375,000 customers.

While the water department was having its problems, the Metropolitan Wastewater Treatment Plant reported it was operating at limited capacity. The facility has experienced multiple power outages and has been “inundated with floodwaters,” the agency said. The facility said it would “continue to operate as long as possible.”

Curfews were announced Sunday afternoon as authorities urged people to stay at home and not risk the danger of being swept away in floodwaters.

Gov. Nikki Haley said the weekend-long storm produced a "thousand-year flood."

"This was flooding was like we haven't seen before," Haley said. "Our goal is all hands on deck."

Haley said state and federal resources are involved in the disaster relief effort. Those include:

  • 320 SLED agents on standby.
  • 200,000 sandbags (30,000 had been used as of 4 p.m.).
  • 600 S.C. National Guard troops had been activated and 500 are on call. An additional 8,500 could be called into action if necessary.
  • 1,000 S.C. Department of Transportation maintenance workers were on duty.
  • 754 emergency calls had been answered by the Highway Patrol in a 12-hour period; 323 of those were collisions, including three fatalities. (One of the fatalities was an unidentified woman whose SUV was swept off Sunset Drive on Sunday morning, between North Main and S.C. 277, Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said. Her body was retrieved from the vehicle around midafternoon, he said.)

Haley and local law enforcement officials said a curfew was necessary to keep sightseers off the roads as they continue to answer emergency calls and rescue stranded residents.

"We cannot encourage you enough to stay home and stay off the roads so that our first responders and utility and maintenance crews can get their jobs done,” Haley said. “Team South Carolina continues to be all hands on deck as we work through this. The heroes in this situation continue to be our first responders, DOT maintenance crews, and our utility workers. Please keep them in your prayers as they continue to work in these dangerous conditions.”

Once it gets dark the conditions will become even more dangerous, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said. Only emergency personnel should be out after 6 p.m., he said.

“Deputies will stop you and make you go home if they see you on the roadways,” Lott said.

Meanwhile, a number of road closings were reported by DOT. Those included:

  • Interstate 95 between I-26 and Florence.
  • Sections of I-20 and I-126 that crossed the Broad River.
  • I-20 between Two Notch Road and I-77.

The city of Columbia reported road closures at:

  • Pinebelt and Chester.
  • Main and Mason.
  • S.C.-277 at Farrow Road.
  • I-77 ramps at Fort Jackson Boulevard.
  • Fort Jackson and Devine.
  • Rosewood at Midlands Tech.
  • Lost Creek Drive.
  • Lakewood between Trenholm Road and Shady Lane.
  • Trotter and Leesburg.
  • 1300-1400 blocks of Sunset Drive.

The storm, which has spread up the Eastern Seaboard, also hampered operations at Columbia Metropolitan Airport, which reported that about a dozen arrivals from places like Chicago, New York and Philadelphia during this afternoon and evening had been canceled. The first flight out of the airport today was scheduled to depart about 9 a.m.

On Saturday, President Obama declared a federal emergency in South Carolina, which activated federal resources to support the state and local public safety efforts during the storm and recovery. The direct federal assistance will be available to public safety agencies in all 46 counties and the Catawba Nation.

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