Florence: An unwelcome visitor who refuses to leave

Jeffrey Collins
Associated Press

Georgetown, S.C. – For many living near South Carolina’s coast, Florence is the visitor they never wanted who now refuses to leave.

Eleven days after the once-fierce hurricane arrived on the coast, and more than a week after it blew north and dissipated, rivers swollen by its relentless rains are still flooding homes and businesses in their paths as they make their way to the sea.

Some residents have no idea when they will return home. One of them is Vivian Chestnut, who evacuated her home in inundated Conway, South Carolina, six days ago.

The Waccamaw River, which flows through the city of 23,000, had already reached more than 21 feet – and it was still rising Tuesday afternoon.

The waterway was expected to crest on Wednesday, but not to drop below 18 feet or so until sometime next week. The river floods at 11 feet.

“You find yourself sitting around a lot and thinking, ‘What if,’ or, ‘I wonder what things are like right now,’ ” said Chestnut, who is staying with family in the area. “And wondering what you are going to find when you finally get back.”

It’s a scene repeating itself across eastern South Carolina, where rivers swollen from what one meteorologist calculated is the nation’s second-rainiest storm in 70 years slowly make their way down the state’s gentle sloping coastal plain.

If that weren’t bad enough, more weather was forming off the coast in a hurricane season that still has two months to go. National Hurricane Center forecasters watching a low pressure area about 260 miles south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, said it could become a tropical depression as it approaches the coast before moving quickly to the north.

While it will likely dump some additional rain on the Florence-battered city of Wilmington, it wasn’t expected to be significant enough to worsen the flooding.

The storm was also having an enduring impact on the environment. A power outage at a wastewater station combined with heavy rain caused about 128,000 gallons of wastewater to spill into a river at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, the U.S. Marine Corps reported Tuesday. The military said the spill won’t threaten residential water supplies, however.

A preliminary analysis of Hurricane Florence has determined that the slow-moving storm dumped more than 17.5 inches of water on a region stretching from Fayetteville, North Carolina, to Florence, South Carolina.