Kershaw County is now among those in South Carolina eligible for assistance from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley and county officials made the announcement Wednesday afternoon. The designation means residents and business owners can ask for their properties to be assessed by county and FEMA officials and reimbursed appropriately to property damaged by this past weekend’s flooding.
Assistance can include money for temporary rental assistance and essential home repairs for primary homes, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help survivors recover from the effects of the disaster, according to a FEMA press release.
The county is now in recovery mode, County Administrator Vic Carpenter said early Thursday afternoon. Carpenter said the southern part of the county appeared to be the hardest hit.
“We have spent the last three days on assessment,” Carpenter said. “We have to assess every home, as well as roads and bridges.”
Carpenter and Kershaw County Council Chairman Julian Burns took the opportunity to assess some areas from the air Tuesday afternoon.
“We were lucky,” Burns said in an email Wednesday morning. “We saw on our aerial recon that waters had largely receded, and our hardworking teams of the county, under Nick Anderson, are working hard in accordance with Vic and (Assistant County Administrator) Allen Trapp and (emergency management director) Gene Faulkenberry to restore businesses and schools to normalcy.”
Burns said it was and remains a “team effort” of the county, mayors, Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office, Kershaw County School District (KCSD), fire departments, United Way of Kershaw County, Red Cross, other volunteer groups, churches and state agencies.
“It will be many months to recover,” he said.
Kershaw County Economic Development Marketing and Administrative Manager Lauren Reeder moved from her regular office near I-20 Exit 98 to the Assessor’s Office in Kershaw County Government Center in order to act as a liaison between residents, business owners, state officials and county officials.
Reeder manned a special phone number set up for residents and others to request property damage assessments and to answer questions. At one point Wednesday, she took a call from the S.C. National Guard asking if the county needed any assistance. She took a message and passed it on to Carpenter. Another call involved a man asking for help getting water pumped out from under his house.
Carpenter said Thursday the situation is ever-changing, with roads and bridges dropping off and being added to a list of closures. Some of that, he said, comes from seeing formerly hidden damage as waters recede.
“We want people to feel as safe as they can,” he said.
Wednesday morning, Carpenter said in an email it was difficult to make good determinations from the air, especially with foliage on trees obscuring most views.
“We did determine that, visually, none of the major ponds or lakes in the county appeared to be breaching,” Carpenter said. “Colonial Lake, Boykin, White Pond, Kendall Lake and, of course, Lake Wateree, were all viewed, among others. All of the dams that control those lakes have also been inspected and all have determined to be safe.”
As of Wednesday, Carpenter said the primary goal was to conduct assessments. At that point, he reported two bridges completely washed away and 17 roads still closed.
“Some of those roads should reopen, but any road with a washed out bridge will be closed for quite some time,” he said.
As of Thursday morning, portions of Porter Cross Road, Pine Grove Road, Smyrna Road, Wildwood Lane, Tremble Branch Road, Veterans Row, Grey Fox Road, Gary Road, Brevard Road, Bookman Road, Tower Road, Three Branches Road, Fort Jackson Road, Sessions Road, Line Road, Catawba Timer Road and Country Lane had been closed either to road or bridge washouts.
During the last several years, Kershaw County conducted assessments of its county-owned bridges and roads and determined a number of them needed upgrading or replacement. Thursday, Carpenter said he would not be surprised if any state funds tapped for fixing roads and bridges in Kershaw County affected by this week’s flooding were diverted from funds originally earmarked for the earlier list.
“People are saying the costs could be $1 billion, statewide,” Carpenter said. “The state has to pay one-fourth of that and the first place they’re probably going to look is existing funds.”
Still, he said, the county was lucky in that Sunday and Monday’s rains did not come during the sweltering heat of summer. On the other hand, Carpenter expressed concern about the coming winter months.
“A major ice storm could be worse in terms of debris,” he said, referring to the possibility of more downed trees.
Carpenter said the county experienced wind gusts of up to 30 mph during the storm. If those had been sustained wind speeds, things could have been much worse, he said.
In the meantime, he is grateful for the way the state is reaching out to assist the county. And he praised county employees across the board, from firefighters to law enforcement to public works and 911 dispatchers.
“Our 911 dispatchers were the hand-holders for folks calling in,” Carpenter said.
The county also waived disposal fees at the county landfill in Cassatt in order to help residents cleaning up from the storm for licensed contractors and other businesses with insurance claim identification numbers. County officials said the county’s recycling center could be used for small amounts of storm debris in addition to regular household garbage.
A few county communities ended up under boil water advisories, but no such advisories remained by Wednesday morning.
KCSD officials closed schools Monday and Tuesday and then again for the remainder of the week. Employees who normally report for professional development days will do so today. Wednesday afternoon, when the district announced schools would stay closed Thursday and Friday, officials said they anticipated getting back to close to a normal schedule Monday.
Administrators will report to work on time Monday, with all other staff reporting one hour later than normal. Students will return to school two hours later than normal.
“(The) KCSD is continuing to work closely with local emergency officials to make decisions in the best interest of the safety of our students and staff,” Director of Communications Mary Anne Byrd said in the district’s announcement. “District leaders will continue to monitor the situation closely and will make appropriate adjustments if needed. The school district continues to appreciate the cooperation of our families with this change in schedule.”
Earlier in the week, KCSD Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan said the district is also working on coming up with alternative bus routes affected by washed out roads and bridges.
Central Carolina Technical College also closed its campuses, including its downtown Camden and I-20 Exit 98 facilities.
Things got back to normal pretty quickly for the most part in the city of Camden, with one exception: Wednesday morning, the city announced it was closing all city parks -- except for Rhame Arena -- through today. City officials said with extremely saturated soil, trees could be unstable. The city recorded 14.88 inches of rain during the three-day weather event. City officials said this could add up to 25 percent more weight, or load, on trees, creating the possibility of more than a usual number of branches to fall.
The city also asked residents and visitors not to park under any large trees, unless otherwise posted.