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1928 hurricane left its mark in Horry County, but then came Matthew

People use boats and friends to help collect pets, food and belongings as they evacuate their homes during the flood in the Rosewood community of Socastee on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, one week after Hurricane Matthew hit. A section of the community was under evacuation on Saturday as the water continued to rise. The Waccamaw River feeds into the Intracoastal Waterway south of the community.
People use boats and friends to help collect pets, food and belongings as they evacuate their homes during the flood in the Rosewood community of Socastee on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, one week after Hurricane Matthew hit. A section of the community was under evacuation on Saturday as the water continued to rise. The Waccamaw River feeds into the Intracoastal Waterway south of the community. jblackmon@thesunnews.com

Record river levels set in Horry County after a hurricane in 1928 were washed away by Hurricane Matthew.

Both storms, churning into major hurricanes, were substantially weakened by the time they hit the South Carolina coast, but weak or not they left their marks, breaking the molds of previous flood boundaries.

“It’s really remarkable about how similar these events were when they were separated by almost 90 years,” said Rick Neuherz, service hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, N.C.

The storm that hit in 1928 was the second deadliest hurricane to ever strike the United States, according to a 2011 technical memorandum from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The terrible tempest hit Puerto Rico as a Category 5 storm on Sept. 13, 1928. Winds were recorded at 160 mph at a weather station in San Juan before the gales destroyed the anemometer used to measure them, according to an archived report from the San Juan station that year.

Decades before hurricanes would have a name this one was dubbed San Felipe Segundo when it became the second hurricane in 52 years to hit the island on a feast day for St. Philip.

San Felipe Segundo killed 312 people, according to the NOAA report, and the San Juan station that year noted the storm left several hundred thousand homeless as it pummeled the country for 18 hours.

But the storm would earn another nickname as it tore through Florida, ripping apart the seams of Lake Okeechobee’s banks as a Category 4 hurricane three days later.

The Okeechobee hurricane hit West Palm Beach, Fla., battering properties with nearly 150 mph winds on Sept. 16, 1928. The flooding rains and mighty gales sent Okeechobee over its banks, crushing dikes in a massive flood that washed away homes and killed thousands.

The storm claimed at least 2,500 lives in the Sunshine State before it moved northward, weakening to a lesser hurricane that hit Edisto Island on Sept. 18, 1928, according to archived hurricane tracks from NOAA’s National Hurricane Center.

And in the days and weeks that followed record flooding levels were set along rivers in Horry County… until Hurricane Matthew came along.

“I wasn’t there in 1928 but I would be willing to bet that there were similar floods in the Little Pee Dee and Waccamaw basins” as the flooding seen with Matthew, Neuherz said.

Records from 1928 reflect a crest on the Waccamaw River at Conway when the storm hit in September. Ten days later - similar to Matthew - another crest appeared in the river, setting a record level at 17.8 feet.

The Waccamaw River at Conway crested at 17.9 feet early Tuesday, according to a Wednesday morning river assessment from NWS. It was the highest level ever recorded at Conway at nearly 7 feet above flood stage, surpassing the record of 17.8 feet set after Okeechobee in 1928.

The rising river had already surged past the record as of 10:15 a.m. Tuesday, according to the NWS assessment.

The Little Pee Dee River at Galivants Ferry crested at 17.1 feet on Oct. 12, smashing the record of 16 feet set in 1928.

“The Galivants Ferry gauge spent over seven days flowing at 40,000 cubic feet per second or higher” in this flood, Neuherz said. That equates to more than 299,000 gallons of water passing by the gauge every second for a week.

“That’s a lot of water,” he added.

The river is predicted to remain in major flood stage through Thursday as it slowly drains into the Great Pee Dee River on a long and winding course to the Atlantic Ocean.

The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway was at 19.23 feet Monday night – marking another record as the great convergence of swollen rivers flooded more than 3,000 homes throughout Horry County.

Officials say it could be weeks before water levels recede enough to reveal the true damages that lie beneath, but the record books already confirm that Matthew left his mark.

Emily Weaver: 843-444-1722, @TSNEmily

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