At least nine people are reported dead in the latest update from South Carolina officials following this weekend’s torrential rains. The historic storm dumped six to 24 inches of rainfall across the state. Meteorologists are calling it a “1,000 year storm,” saying it had a one in 1,000 chance of ever happening. The heavy rains were the result of tropical moisture generated by Hurricane Joaquin, spinning out in the Atlantic Ocean.
While the rains have subsided, state emergency management teams say it may take up to two weeks before the floodwaters recede. In the meantime, as many as 400 roads and 150 bridges remain closed along with numerous school districts and businesses. Columbia residents are under a “boil water advisory” due to the bacteria and chemicals in the floodwaters.
Douglas Macdonald, a member of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s National Response Team, spent most of Monday trying to reach out to various presbyteries to assess the damage to churches and to determine needs.
“It may be a while before we hear the extent of problems from the presbyteries impacted by the flooding,” says Macdonald. “Water from the flash floods has gone down, but the river and lake flooding is going up. You would have to be insane to be on the road right now.”
The Rev. Dr. Donnie R. Woods, executive presbyter for Charleston Atlantic Presbytery, is getting updates from presbyteries several times an hour. He’s heard reports of families displaced by flooding, but like others, says it may take time to find out the extent.
“It’s the first time in recent memory that the city of Charleston was totally closed,” he says. “No one is coming in but medical and emergency personnel. There’s been significant tree damage and numerous power outages, but we recognize that we are a connectional church and are reaching out across this presbytery and our neighboring presbyteries, particularly Trinity and New Harmony where there have been numerous evacuations.”
Woods says hospitals in Columbia are being evacuated due to contaminated water.
Last week, PDA officials contacted all mid councils along the East Coast advising them to implement disaster plans in anticipation of Joaquin. Rick Turner, associate for disaster response with PDA, reached out to five presbyteries in South Carolina as well as coastal presbyteries in North Carolina and Virginia.
“Hopefully by Tuesday, we will have a better sense of the damage and the needs,” he says. “National Response Teams continue to check in with the latest updates and are ready to respond when invited by the mid councils. Right now the state of South Carolina needs prayers and some sunshine.”