The Waccamaw River crested in Conway late Monday at 17.9 feet, toppling the record set in 1928 from the rain unleashed by Hurricane Okeechobee.
The 1928 flood is listed as one of the state’s “storms of the century” by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, with rainfall of 10 to 12 inches that topped the Waccamaw at 17.8 feet above flood level. Road, bridges and railways were impassible, and property losses were nearly $6 million.
The river’s third-highest crest was set by Hurricane Floyd in 1999, and last year’s record rainstorm is now fourth.
The slow-moving river took nine days to hit the mark following Hurricane Matthew, and officials say it could take just as long for the water to finally recede back to moderate flood stage levels.
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Residents near Conway started preparing for the coming flood the morning after Hurricane Matthew hit, and roads were cut off by water the following Monday.
Residents in areas that have never flooded before along the Intracoastal Waterway and in Bucksport were evacuated days later as the water crept to the crest.
The Intracoastal Waterway was at 19.09 feet over flood stage by Monday.
The code red emergency call system was activated Saturday to alert Socastee residents by phone about the rising waterway, and a voluntary evacuation was urged.
Bucksport residents — at risk from the Intracoastal Waterway, Waccamaw and Little Pee Dee River flooding — were alerted on Friday, said Brooke Holden, communications specialist for Horry County Emergency Management.
“We wanted to make sure those people knew that if they wanted to leave or felt the need to leave, now was the time to go,” Holden said.
There are seven shelters still operating in Horry County for residents who have evacuated flooded areas: at Aynor High School, Conway High School, Green Sea Floyds Middle and High schools, Loris High School, North Myrtle Beach High, Palmetto Bay Elementary School and Whittemore Park Middle School, according to the Emergency Operations Center.
“People need to know there is still somewhere for them to go,” Holden said.
With more than 100 roads closed throughout the county due to flooding and the Waccamaw River just hitting its peak, it will be several days before local, state and federal officials can access the areas to assess the damage and finalize requests for federal assistance from FEMA.
“Just like last year, it’s going to be a waiting process,” Holden said.
Once the river crests, it takes the crawling Waccamaw days, sometimes more than a week, to recede to the point that homeowners can access their property and assessments can be made.
Those assessments must be made before FEMA determines whether to grant the state’s request that Horry County be declared an emergency area.
“It’s a process that has to go to the White House for the president to approve,” said Derrec Becker, public information officer with the state Emergency Management Division.
“Horry County is still in response mode with the oncoming flood. Because it’s an ongoing emergency situation, we are focused on life and safety first, and then recovery,” Becker said.