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As Waccamaw River rises, U.S. 501 may become a last link to eastern Horry County

Drone video of workers attempting to shore up Highway 501 at Conway, South Carolina

Efforts are being made to prevent Highway 501 in Conway from flooding over. Myrtle Beach would be cut off if the area floods, but Conway residents are worried the project will cause water to back up and further flood areas around town.
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Efforts are being made to prevent Highway 501 in Conway from flooding over. Myrtle Beach would be cut off if the area floods, but Conway residents are worried the project will cause water to back up and further flood areas around town.

As S.C. National Guard crews build a sandbag barrier to protect U.S. 501 in Conway from the rising Waccamaw River, a Myrtle Beach spokesman said the route is vital to eastern Horry County communities.

National Weather Service projections show the Waccamaw reaching 19.7 feet by Sunday, nearly 2 feet higher than the record set in 2016 during Hurricane Matthew. The Waccamaw is expected to continue rising until next Tuesday or Wednesday, the service reported, possibly exceeding Matthew’s 17.9 flood height by about 3 feet. The river was at 15.4 feet at midafternoon Tuesday, more than 4 feet over flood stage.

More road closures are expected from Florence than from Matthew, Myrtle Beach public information officer Mark Kruea said.

“The worst-case scenario is limited access or no access to the coast,” Kruea said. Asked what would be most affected if U.S. 501 closes, he said, “It’s everything. ... This is a critical situation for all of Horry County.”

U.S. 17 between Myrtle Beach and hard-hit Wilmington, N.C., is closed in several places in Brunswick County, N.C., Raleigh’s News & Observer reported Tuesday.

As floodwaters move south into Georgetown County, Kruea said, access to Horry County may also be threatened from that direction.

U.S. 501 South was reduced to a single-lane crawl of traffic at midday Tuesday as National Guard crews used heavy equipment to lift large bags of sand into place. A map of Horry County road closures showed dozens of minor roads and streets — the county’s count was 118 Tuesday afternoon — closed.

A state map of closures showed many more roads blocked near the North Carolina line in Marion, Dillon and Marlboro counties.

In a Facebook post Tuesday, Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune warned residents that the sun’s return “is not the full picture.”

Because most of the city’s solid waste staff live in areas west of Myrtle Beach that are expected to flood in the coming days, Bethune said, the pickup of recyclables, yard debris and bulky items has been suspended. Many roads into Myrtle Beach are expected to be closed within two days, she added.

“We are blessed in Myrtle Beach that we did not suffer damages from this storm; however, we are being impacted in a very significant way,” she said in the video post. “This is a time for us to join together and to be patient.”

Conway Medical Center said in a statement Tuesday that its emergency management team is working with vendors “to ensure that we have supplies to support all services as our focus shifts to potentially historic flooding in our communities.” The hospital said it has a plan to house essential employees so that they can continue working.

Rep. Tom Rice, a Myrtle Beach Republican, said Tuesday he’ll use the threat to U.S. 501 to push for funding for Interstate 73, which would connect the Grand Strand with the nation’s interstate highway network.

This article was amended on Thursday, Sept. 20, to correct Rep. Tom Rice’s hometown.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051; @bhender
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