The Thousand-Year Flood – As Prepared as We Could Be?

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As a native of Charleston, SC, I can tell you that the city is still reeling from the senseless shooting at the Emanuel AME Church. Recovering from that as a community, we watched carefully as Hurricane Joaquin formed in the tropics.  While its initial path appeared that it would avoid the Southeastern Coast, we know that slights shifts in weather patterns can create dire situations on land.

As detailed in numerous news and weather sites, as Hurricane Joaquin tracked north, well east of the coast, a separate, non-tropical low pressure system was setting up over the Southeast. This system drew in a deep, tropical plume of water vapor off of the tropical Atlantic Ocean. At the same time, this upper-level low pressure system tapped into the moist outflow of Hurricane Joaquin.


The moisture pipeline fed directly into a pocket of intense uplift on the northern side of the non-tropical vortex. Within this dynamic “sweet spot,” thunderstorms established a training pattern, passing repeatedly over the same location and created a narrow corridor of torrential rain stretching from Charleston to the southern Appalachians.

The remarkable thing about this process is that it was sustained for three days.

The cities of Charleston and Columbia set new records for 24-hour, two-day and three-day rainfall totals. On Saturday October 3rd alone, 11.5 inches of rain fell in Charleston, where, just five days into the month, it became the rainiest October on record. Just a few miles northeast up Route 17, an astonishing 24.23 inches of rain fell near Mount Pleasant, S.C. In Huger, S.C., 21.04 inches fell. And rainfall totals over 16 inches are widespread across 10 counties from Columbia to Charleston.

According to statistics compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, South Carolina’s torrential weekend rain well surpassed a 1,000-year rainfall event — one that, on average, we would expect to see about every 1,000 years. A three-day, 1,000-year rainfall event for Charleston County would have been 17.1 inches. A four-day, 1,000-year event would have been 17.5 inches. Boone Hall Plantation, just north of Mount Pleasant, in Charleston County, reported more than 24 inches of rain through Sunday morning, which essentially blows NOAA’s 1,000-year events scale out of the water.

Prior to the rain, I used a web and mobile app I had found in March – – to keep my neighbors apprised of the growing danger.  We were able to track those who may need extra assistance during what we knew was a growing danger.

Through social media and other means, we watched as our city began to shut down. Our downtown often floods; seeing kayaks in our streets is nothing new, but the “Super Moon” event in combination with a near rush-hour high tide and predicted rainfall had everyone concerned.

And then the rain began.Kayak

For three days straight, the rain kept up a steady downpour. Friends only a mile from my home were evacuated as their entire neighborhood became a lake; mine saved by the mere difference of a foot.

Sewers overflowed. Snakes, alligators and other wildlife were displaced and in the waters rushing into people’s homes and businesses.  Sinkholes opened, and roadways collapsed.  Bridges were weakened, damns overflowed and were breached. And as the water rushed to find its way out to the ocean, the river banks swelled.

Lives were lost. More than a week after the historic storm, the death toll stands at 21 in North and South Carolina. Twenty-seven dams have failed, 129 more are in jeopardy, and more than 300 roads and bridges remain closed. Flood warnings are still in effect in parts of the state.

While here in Charleston we had significant losses, our capital city of Columbia and surrounding areas are devastated. Parts of the state are still under Boil Water orders.

FEMADebrisRemoval Cleanup From SCEMD:

As people start cleaning up the mess left behind by severe flooding, they need to take added steps to protect their own health and safety.

Assume everything touched by flood water is contaminated and will have to be disinfected.  Most clean-up can be done with household cleaning products, but always read and follow label directions.  Remember to frequently wash your hands during the clean-up and wear sturdy shoes to prevent falls on the slippery silt and mud left behind.

If there has been a backflow of sewage into the house, wear rubber boots and waterproof gloves during cleanup.  Remove and discard contaminated household materials that cannot be disinfected, such as wallcoverings, cloth, rugs and drywall.

Walls, hard-surface floors and many other household surfaces should be cleaned with soap and water and disinfected with a solution of one cup bleach to five gallons of water.  Be particularly careful to thoroughly disinfect surfaces that may come in contact with food, such as counter tops, pantry shelves, refrigerators, etc.  Areas where small children play should also be carefully cleaned.

Wash all linens and clothing in hot water, or dry clean them.  For items that cannot be washed, such as mattresses and upholstered furniture, air dry them in the sun and then spray them thoroughly with a disinfectant.  Steam clean all carpeting.

In addition:

  • Always wear waterproof gloves when working with cleaning solutions.
  • Apply cleaner and give it time to work before you mop or sponge it up.
  • After cleaning a room or item, go over it again with disinfectant to kill germs and odor left by flood water.
  • Tackle one room at a time.  A two-bucket method is most effective: one bucket for the cleaning solution and a second for the rinse water.
  • Rinse out sponge, mop or cleaning cloth in the rinse bucket.
  • Replace rinse water frequently.
  • Clean with non-sudsing household cleaners or laundry detergent.
  • Disinfect using household disinfectants, such as pine oil or 1/4 cup (two ounces) of liquid chlorine bleach mixed in 1 gallon of water.
  • Remove mildew with household mildew cleaner or washing soda or trisodium phosphate (five tablespoons per gallon of water) or 1/4 cup (two ounces) of laundry bleach in one gallon of water.

Continued Threats and Improvements

The ground is heavily saturated, and because of that, our huge living oak and other trees have weakened and softened root systems; as trees come down so do power lines. Back-up power becomes a must.

Governor Haley said work is continuing on road repairs, with I-95 south partially reopening across the state. Debris removal has also begun in Sumter, Richland, and Lexington Counties.

More than 200 roads and nearly 100 bridges remain closed as S.C. Department of Transportation teams continued with inspections and repairs. Earlier Monday, October 12, SCDOT announced that I-95 southbound reopened to through traffic. Northbound I-95 traffic continues to be routed through Columbia from I-26 to I-20. For the latest information on state bridge and road closings go to 

So many of our neighbors were left either homeless or with heavy damage to their homes. Mold is now a grave concern. Contractors have six-month waiting lists, and price gougers and contracting scammers are working neighborhoods.

If you are seeing price gouging in your area call 803-737-3953, email: [email protected] or tweet @SCPriceGouging

Officials are warning about a scam in which criminals are impersonating FEMA officials.

In the days after any natural disaster, FEMA inspectors typically descend upon an area and begin evaluating the damage. FEMA is assisting the state in recovering from the storm, establishing a Disaster Recovery Center. The government agency offers housing assistance information, crisis counseling, disaster legal services, disaster unemployment information and funeral assistance.

While numerous FEMA inspectors are in place in South Carolina, criminals are also attempting to pose as these officials. “The Inspectors should ALWAYS have their badges displayed if they are working. They should provide the ID without issue, and say why they are in the area,” the South Carolina Emergency Management Division said in a statement. “They will identify they are Contractors for FEMA, and their mission here is to perform Individual Assistance Housing Inspections for the applicants.”

People need basic resources: food, water, insurance help. The heavy damage to the roads has made it difficult to get to work and elsewhere, and for some, their workplace no longer exists; this problem will persist for weeks, if not months and longer. There is a program to provide unemployment assistance to people who lose their job as a direct result of the storm. Unemployment Insurance Information

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control is offering no-cost tetanus vaccinations for South Carolinians affected by flooding at state health department locations, with mobile clinics in Florence, Georgetown, Lexington, Richland and Williamsburg counties. For a complete list of vaccination clinics and information on scheduling an appointment go to

The SBA is available to assist businesses with Disaster Loans; the disaster loan fact sheet is available at

Facebook pages and websites have been created to reunite families with their lost pets.

President Obama has declared eight South Carolina counties a federal disaster, including nine in the Midlands: Lexington, Orangeburg, Newberry Sumter, Clarendon, Lee, Kershaw, Calhoun, and Richland. Other counties could also get help with public assistance.

The money would cover, in part, losses not taken care of by insurance. SC Emergency Management Division spokesman Derrec Becker said that people can go ahead and register, even if they haven’t gotten a property assessment from their insurance company.

People in those counties can register for assistance now, either by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or going to

My own family is safe, with damage only to our roof; we can fix leaks and are deeply grateful for power, water and work. As the primary care provider for a 90-year old relative however, we realize that our own plans were not as focused as they could be; we did have concerns regarding medicine refills, medical equipment failure in an extended power outage, and alternate power solutions.

A long talk with Firestorm CEO Harry Rhulen helped me clarify my responsibility to my elderly relative and family, and work toward better preparedness.

I would like to thank all first responders, urban search and rescue teams, medical personnel  and others who traveled from neighboring states to assist our communities. This care and concern has been invaluable to our state.

To volunteer and donate, visit this resource page:

Related Source articles:

In Pictures: South Carolina’s Historic Floods

The Meteorology Behind South Carolina’s Catastrophic, 1000-Year Rainfall Event

After the Flood: How to Get and Give Help

Inside the Aftermath of South Carolina’s Devastating Floods

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