One year after the combination punch of Hurricane Joaquin and a record rainstorm slammed the South Carolina coastline, many area residents are still recovering.
Numerous homeowners trying to rebuild are reliant on U.S. Housing and Urban Development dollars that won’t be delivered until next year.
Farmers who were drawn into a legislative battle to get state aid successfully lobbied to overturn Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto of funding, but weren’t able to begin the application process for the assistance until this summer.
King tides compounded the damage along the coastline, where waves overran stormwater drainage pipes on the beach, causing flash flooding in beachfront neighborhoods.
The rough surf also ravaged the dunes and stripped away more than 500,000 cubic yards of sand along the Grand Strand, dramatically narrowing some stretches of beach during high tide.
Federal help was secured to begin beach renourishment on the South Strand this year, but bids for the project came in over budget, so the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will have to restart that process.
North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach were rejected for funding this year, but local officials began a new lobbying push this month for Congress to deliver beach renourishment dollars for next year.
And, when FEMA arrived to distribute $375 million in flood insurance payments statewide, they also began redrawing maps of Horry County’s floodplains, igniting protests from residents who would have to pay more for flood insurance, and county officials who say the new maps are wrong.
Where’s the money?
The wheels of the federal government turn slowly after natural disasters. Congress must first authorize emergency funding before federal agencies begin the bureaucratic process of distributing the money to those in need, says Mark Lazarus, Horry County Council chairman.
“It’s taking longer than we would like it to, but we are fighting every day for the funding we deserve,” Lazarus said.
County officials tried to speed up HUD funding and asked to distribute the money on the county level directly to those affected, but were blocked by federal bureaucrats.
The county is also contesting FEMA’s proposed flood zone maps, in part because federal officials based their decisions on measurements taken from the Black River instead of the Waccamaw River, Lazarus said.
“I believe we will be successful, the federal government just takes time,” Lazarus said. “It doesn’t happen overnight. There are still people in Louisiana who are dealing with Katrina. Unfortunately, there are a lot of areas along the Waccamaw River basin here still dealing with that, but hopefully it will soon get settled.”
Last year’s storm quickly overwhelmed the area’s drainage systems, resulting in the third highest crest on record for the Waccamaw River and flooding 334 homes, causing $9.6 million in damages, according to county records.
The tourism industry also was severely impacted, due in part to national news coverage of the storm’s impact across the entire state. Potential visitors were left with the impression that Myrtle Beach was closed for business, resulting in a $30 million economic loss, said Brad Dean, executive director of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber launched an unusual media blitz to counter the misconception, which included daily updated driving directions on how to circumvent closed portions of Interstate 95 to reach Myrtle Beach.
“We are experienced in dealing with the impact of tropical storms and hurricanes, telling visitors when we are closed and open for business,” Dean said. “But we had not counted on the damage inland that created the perception that we were closed for business, and that you couldn’t get to the Grand Strand. It was a challenge to overcome.”
While the ongoing bureaucratic struggles still simmer, one year later there’s little evidence to the casual observer beyond the fenced sand dunes that the Grand Strand was even impacted by the confluence of extreme weather events.
The long-term flooding actually occurred inland along the banks of the Waccamaw River that took weeks to recede, while determined residents commuted by boat out of the swampy area to work each day.
In contrast, the Grand Strand saw 20 inches of rain in a 48-hour period, which led to flash flooding along numerous streets near the beach, as well as in some areas of Carolina Forest and Socastee.
County officials say lessons learned from Hurricane Floyd and tougher stormwater system regulations in 2000 enabled them to more efficiently respond to last year’s disaster.
“Our challenge was that there has been a lot more development since Floyd, so we had new areas that were impacted, including Carolina Forest,” said Randy Webster, emergency management director for the county.
In some locations, including the developments of Bellegrove Plantation in Carolina Forest and Cameron Village in Socastee, last year’s flooding might not have just been caused by an overwhelmed stormwater system.
When Tropical Storm Hermine struck in early September, the seven to nine inches of rain that fell in a 24-hour period also caused extensive flooding.
Tom Garigen, stormwater manager for Horry County, said they are investigating those systems to determine if there are other structural issues that are causing the flooding and hope to soon prescribe a solution.
“The system is not working the way it should be working,” Garigen said.
Officials also are in the process of tweaking the current stormwater regulations to apply lessons learned from both storms.
“We’ve made amazing progress since the (stormwater) program was created in 2000. At that time we had a lot of flooding problems throughout the county. But we were able to whittle away problems over the years and spent a lot of time and effort to solve problems in older neighborhoods,” Garigen said.
“But, with the amount of growth we’re experiencing – we had a lull until two years ago, but things are exploding again development wise – it’s making everyone a little nervous abut the drainage system and how to handle it in the future,” Garigen said.