Video from Josh Yates' Oral History Project

On October 2nd, a low-pressure system stalled off of the Georgia coast.

That low-pressure system interacted with Hurricane Joaquin, located well offshore, and funneled tropical moisture into South Carolina.The intense rainfall, combined with the already saturated soil, led to the worst flooding the state has seen in recent memory.

On the night of October 3rd, people across the Midlands fell asleep to the sound of rain. Many awoke to alarms and sirens, others to water rushing into their homes.

Locations across the state set new rainfall records, with many places receiving more than ten inches of rain and some even more than twenty inches. Streams and rivers spilled out of their banks. Gill’s Creek peaked at 19.6 feet, a new record, while the Congaree River peaked at 31.81 feet, the highest level since 1936.

Hundreds of roads and bridges were damaged. There were widespread sewer spills, and several treatment plants were flooded. Residents of Columbia had to boil their water for over a week. More than 45 dams across the state failed. The Columbia Canal breached, putting the drinking water source for more than 180,000 people in jeopardy. 

The damage from the floods was widespread. Nineteen people lost their lives. More than 100,000 homes were damaged, and the total losses are estimated to be in the billions of dollars.

The power of water to decimate communities brings our need for statewide infrastructure reforms into stark relief. Not since Hurricane Hugo has a natural disaster impacted South Carolina with such brute force.

– Essay by Bill Stangler,
the Congaree Riverkeeper