By TIM BULLARD
Genesis 6:17 — “And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.”
Catholic churches in Horry County and the Pee Dee were spared heavy damage during Hurricane Floyd, but rising flood waters have caused many residents to continue to evacuate as workers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Guard and the S.C. Department of Transportation feverishly try to protect Conway.
Rick and Barbara Rivera with their son, Robbie, had evacuated to the St. James Parish house on Long Avenue in Conway where St. Mary of Namur Sister Kathleen Kane, pastoral associate, welcomed them. They had to evacuate again when waters rose to the level that their vehicles were submerged.
Paula Loehr, administrative assistant at St. James Church, said the gym roof was damaged. Linda Britzke, parish secretary at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in North Myrtle Beach said a few trees fell over but they had only minor damage. That was also the case at St. Andrew Church on U.S. 17 Business in Myrtle Beach, a few blocks from the ocean. All was fine, according to Kathie O’Connor, at the church office.
Precious Blood Church in Pawleys Island went unscathed and there was little damage at St. Mary Church in Georgetown
“There were small tree limbs down. One set of windows in the living quarters buckled. Other than that, we were highly blessed,” said Charity Sister Kathleen Driscoll, pastoral administrator at St. Cyprian’s Church in Georgetown.
There was no damage at St. Ann Church in Florence or at St. Anthony Church there.
On Monday Horry County schools were dismissed at noon with floodwater rising. SLED and National Guard helicopters were dispatched on missions as traffic began to snarl again with U.S. 9 Loris traffic being diverted to Conway on U.S. 701.
Last Thursday, a room full of emergency personnel, state police agents, and local law enforcement officers waited nearly an hour until Gov. Jim Hodges arrived from his Columbia press conference, where he had apologized for the Charleston I-26 gridlock.
“We’re not going to wait on the governor,” Horry County Emergency Management Director Paul Whitten said, tapping his watch and starting the session.
“At this point we do not have a presidential declaration. Right now we do have an emergency declaration that covers governmental expenses,” Whitten said.
Billboards were crumpled, and a convenience store gas island canopy was destroyed in Aynor, and there were downed trees everywhere, smashing rooftops in some Conway neighborhoods.
“We did have some wind damage,” said Whitten. “The Waccamaw River Basin has had 15 to 25 inches of rain.”
Waccamaw River levels were 10.95 at the 4 p.m. briefing. “It was 10.06 this morning,” said Whitten..
“The flood record is 13.4 feet,” he added. “We’ve never seen it before. The number-one issue is life safety. People’s lives will be in danger. This is a real difficult issue because we are flat. This is swamp land. This flooding is going to go lateral.”
Horry County American Red Cross Director Jeanne Carmichael said the Southern Baptist Convention’s mobile meals vehicle will provide food for evacuated flood victims and that there will be emergency shelters on the east and west sides of Conway.
Horry County Emergency Medical Services Director Randall Webster said victims will be evacuated from Savannah Bluff and Lee’s Landing, two areas which usually flood first off the Waccamaw River.
“All major thoroughfares are compromised by high water,” said Horry County Police Chief Paul Goward.
Horry County Public Information Officer Cheryl Henry, Interim County Administrator Danny Knight and other county personnel had already faced 48-hour shifts of sleepless duty at the command center.
When he finally arrived, Hodges thanked the officers for their untiring efforts, receiving applause himself.
“I do want to thank you for the hard work that all of your have done. We’ll live through this. We’ll fight through this.”
Rep. Billy Witherspoon (R-Conway) was forgiving over the Charleston traffic controversy.
“It’s always someone wants to point fingers at the other fella,” said Witherspoon. “I guess he tried to wait until the last minute. It’s easy to sit in the stands and coach football. What would you do? It was a bad situation. … Under the circumstances I think the governor has done a great job.”
Witherspoon, who lives on Sherwood Drive, the tour’s first destination, had just helped a neighbor. “I’ve seen it flood, but not like this,” he said. “We’ve been hanging up clothes for three hours.”
The state representative was supposed to meet Hodges at the airport. “I couldn’t get there,” said Witherspoon. Local residents have patiently braved long lines on Cultra Road to U.S. 501 from U.S. 701, where floodwaters could affect the Horry County Public Safety Building, the hurricane headquarters.
“All that water from North Carolina has got to come this way,” said Witherspoon. “I evacuated. My sister lives in Timmonsville, and she has a basement. We lost electricity. I just got my electricity back on an hour ago.”
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control collected water samples on the shore last Friday to test for bacteria.
Sen. Luke Rankin joined the governor in a private strategy meeting in which Conway Mayor Greg Martin, Conway City Administrator Marty Lawing and others were briefed with a topographical map, predicting which neighborhoods will be flooded.
“The biggest concern is the flooding and the uncertainty we are going to face in the next few days,” said Martin. Several thousand sandbags will be provided by the state, according to Martin.
“It appears that the City of Conway and Horry County are going to get very strong support with equipment and resources from the state,” said Lawing. “We’ve asked for additional support from the National Guard and the State Law Enforcement Division controlling the streets that are flooded.”
Officers will patrol roads to prevent looting, Lawing said. Evacuation, if or when it is ordered, will not be mandatory, he added.
The major problem city officials are wary of is the sewer system. On U.S. 701 S.C. Department of Transportation workers feverishly sandbagged a sewage pump station, and on U.S. 501 a huge berm was constructed off Lake Busbee.
Clem Chaffee, a liaison from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, accompanied the cadre on their tour, and an assessment was done last Saturday.
Myrtle Beach Deputy Fire Chief Bill Taaffe, a parishioner at St. James Church, said he dispatched nine Metro-Dade firefighters to Conway.
“They drove up today thinking they’d help out at the beach. We didn’t need them,” said Taaffe, who lives in a submerged Conway neighborhood.