The unintended consequence of living in a natural disaster area is the tourist attraction it creates, and along the flooded Waccamaw River, sightseers are causing even more damage to homes surrounded by downed trees and rising water.
Waccamaw Drive residents say they are used to sightseers when the river floods, and don’t mind the occasional kayak paddler or motorboat slowly skimming by their houses.
But some have to yell at the speeding boaters as they race by their neighborhood, warning them to slow down before the wake rolls through their homes.
Wayne Cooper shouted at four sightseers in a boat Tuesday morning who were creating three-foot waves that knocked his and his neighbor’s lawnmower off of blocks that were intended to keep the machines from floating away.
“You’ve got lawnmowers being washed off blocks, you’ve got TVs, you’ve got refrigerators, all types of stuff. Whatever people have downstairs that they already put up above the water, when someone makes the water several feet higher in a matter of seconds, it’s going to wash off,” Cooper said.
“I call it ignorance, I don’t know what else to say,” Cooper said. “If you don’t know any better at this point of a major flood, then you’re ignorant to what’s going on around you.”
Emy Chamberlain says it’s not just the homes already flooded, but houses on stilts that are also damaged by boat wake.
“When they come by, they’re splashing water into those houses. Either way, it causes a big problem. It’s a breeding ground for mold, and then people have to tear out their carpets,” Chamberlain said.
The S.C. Department of Natural Resources has patrol boats on the river for security, rescue assistance and to warn boaters to slow down.
But it’s not just the tourists who are causing problems. Cooper and his wife, Charlotte, said a DNR boat created a roll of waves when it preplaned by their house doing 10 mph on Monday.
“Maybe they had an emergency or something,” offered Charlotte Cooper.
Sgt. Nate Hutson with DNR said an official could have been heading to an emergency, or trying to get enough power to manage steering upstream in the rushing water.
“When those guys are coming upstream, the water is running so fast they have little space to manage the boat,” Hutson said. “We want to provide security and keep it at a minimum speed, but it’s impossible to keep it completely down, unless we’re going downstream, then we can just float.”
“But, we do advise our guys to lead by example,” Hutson said.
When DNR encounters boaters on the river, unless they are trying to access their own property, officials are telling them that now is not the time for pleasure cruising.
“We are advising them to keep it at idle speed, specifically around homes, due to the fact that wake does cause a lot of damage. Just like the ocean crashing on shore and washing out sand, waves from a boat can wash out the foundation from a home and do some destruction,” Hutson said.
In addition to that state agency, officers from the S.C. Law Enforcement Division are also on the river in boats and utilizing a helicopter to spot residents who need to be rescued from flooded areas, said agency spokesman Thom Berry.
Gov. Nikki Haley said during a news conference Tuesday that more than 200 rescue missions have occurred in flooded areas, which included 30 pets and five goats.
The National Weather Service crest predictions for the Waccamaw River have varied significantly since alerts were first issued.
The most recent forecast issued Tuesday afternoon said the river could reach 16.6 feet on Sunday and crest early next week. That’s a half-foot above last year, making this event the second highest flood on record.
If you don’t know any better at this point of a major flood, then you’re ignorant to what’s going on around you.
Wayne Cooper, Waccamaw River resident
The Little Pee Dee River at Galivants Ferry was expected to crest at a record high of 17 feet Tuesday afternoon.
Once the Waccamaw crests, it takes a week for the water to recede.
For the foreseeable future, officers from the Horry County Police Department have established 14 checkpoints at flooded road entrances to prevent the public from driving onto flooded roads and to provide security for the neighborhood.
“They are there to protect property, to make sure that only property owners access property, for security, to troubleshoot any issues with property owners and provide information as needed,” said Lisa Bourcier, Horry County spokeswoman.
“They will probably be there for another 10 days, at least until people can get back to their property. We will just have to wait and see,” she said.
Until then, Waccamaw River residents who are hurricane weary with downed trees, no electricity, and a flooded neighborhood that requires wading through waist-high water or a boat to leave their home, are asking boaters to slow down.
“I know people are curious and they just want to see what’s going on, and that’s okay as long as they paddle or idle by so there’s not a wake,” said Charlotte Cooper.
“But our things are already being ruined, and all they are doing is washing more stuff away,” she said.