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Haley: S.C. shifting to recovery mode; danger remains

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A utility truck on Monday rolls past a heavily damaged building at Garners Ferry Road and Rosewood Drive that housed the offices of Title Max and Liberty Income Tax. (Photos/Chuck Crumbo)

 

By Chuck Crumbo
ccrumbo@scbiznews.com
Published Oct. 5, 2015

Columbia began to resurface today after heavy rains that dumped as much as 16 inches on sections of the city receded and emergency officials shifted into recovery mode.

The storm has claimed nine lives thus far, authorities said. Four victims died in crashes and the remaining five apparently drowned in their vehicles after being swept off the road in the floodwaters.

Gov. Nikki Haley, though, emphasized the danger is not over. During a late morning media briefing at the S.C. Emergency Management Division headquarters in West Columbia, Haley said that authorities are following the floodwaters as they sluice through the Midlands and toward the coast.

Officials already were in the process of preparing to evacuating sections of Kingstree along the Black River. Haley added that authorities expected that more roads and bridges may have to be closed during the day.

“The good news is that we are getting into the assessment and recovery mode,” Haley said. “So a lot of that is where we can start to assess the damage to really start making some good decisions on how we can go and get people back into a protected situation, but also back into a recovery situation.”

Because a road may be open now doesn’t mean it will remain open, Haley said. “When in doubt, we close roads,” the governor said.

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A Columbia police officer appears to be questioning a dog sitting in the bed of a pickup truck that stopped Monday at a checkpoint near Garners Ferry Road and Fort Jackson Boulevard.
The closings also mean that many schools will be closed because the buses won’t be able to travel many of the back roads, authorities said.

More than 100 roads around the Columbia area have been closed, said S.C. Department of Transportation acting director Christy Hall.

“We’re planning to open I-126 into downtown Columbia and reopen I-20 around Monticello Road,” Hall said at the press briefing. Meanwhile, Interstate 20 over the Saluda River will remain closed as S.C. Electric & Gas Co. needs to release overflow from Lake Murray dam.

Meanwhile, in the city of Columbia, Haley said that none of the hospitals are expected to be evacuated.

A lack of pressure caused by a series of breaks of water mains required bulk water to be transported to Palmetto Health Baptist and pumped into the system. The water was necessary to keep the hospital’s chiller systems, which include the air-conditioner and refrigerators, operating.

City officials also said that water service was being restored in some areas that were knocked offline on Sunday.

Multiple main breaks left thousands of residents and businesses without water or loss of pressure, the department said, adding that citywide boiled water advisory remained in effect for its 375,000 customers.

“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.

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.”

Haley reported that across South Carolina about 40,000 people are without water and water distribution sites are being set up at four locations in the Columbia area. Two of those, located at Richland Fashion Mall and Lower Richland High School, will be set up by 5 p.m. today, Haley said. Locations of the two other locations will be announced later, and six more locations will be added Tuesday.

To expedite recovery efforts, Haley said that this morning she made a verbal request via telephone to President Obama to declare a state of emergency. By making the request by phone this morning, Haley said federal authorities would be able to deploy funds for disaster recovery operations sooner.

Mike Moore, of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the disaster declaration will cover individual assistance for household items and housing, major public assistance for infrastructure damage and protection, and hazard mitigation.

At the hospitals, Palmetto Health said that Palmetto Health Baptist, Palmetto Health Baptist Parkridge and Palmetto Health Richland, Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital, Palmetto Health Heart Hospital and Palmetto Health Urgent Care will remain open.

However, all elective procedures and surgeries at the hospitals were canceled for today and patients would be contacted to reschedule.

“Our primary focus is our patients,” Providence Hospital said in a message on Twitter. “At this point we are not evacuating patients and are continuously monitoring the situation to ensure the safety of our patients and staff.”

Besides land transportation issues, the storm has affected operations at Columbia Metropolitan Airport.

“We have had some delays and cancellations but the airport is open and operational and many flights have come in and out throughout the day without issue,” said Kaela Harmon, spokeswoman. “The biggest message we’re trying to get out is that passengers should check their flight status with their airline before heading to the airport and to be very cautious when driving to the airport. Although roads immediately surrounding the airport are fine, I know many people have to travel through uncertain road conditions to get to the vicinity.”

By the numbers

Here are some key statistics offered this morning during the Haley briefing:

  • 550 roads and bridges closed.
  • Of those closed, 100 are in Columbia and surrounding area. Department of Public Safety responded to 2,700 total calls. 910 were collisions.
  • 26,000 without power. That number seems to be an average, Haley said.
  • Debris removal — looking for down trees and limbs getting in the way.
  • 40,000 people without water.
  • 253 troopers on the road.
  • Department of Natural Resources offices have performed more than 150 water rescues.
  • 25 shelters currently open housing 932 people.
  • 1,300 National Guard members have been called up, another 7,000 are on standby.
  • 25 aerial rescues to date.
  • No major outages of cellphone service.

Staff writer Chris Cox contributed to this report.

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