Georgetown residents will see water continue to rise and face possible closures of main routes into the county in the coming days, officials warned locals.
“You need to leave,” Sheriff A. Lane Cribb said.
The county did not issue an evacuation order, but people in flood-prone areas need to prepare to flee, county administrator Sel Hemingway said.
“We highly encourage you to seek shelter if you see water levels rising and threatening your particular location,” Hemingway said.
Water levels in Georgetown are increasing as record-high river waters travel south following Hurricane Florence, county leaders said Monday. Georgetown Office of Emergency Management Director Sam Hodge said water people see in photographs from North Carolina and Horry County is now arriving in Georgetown.
“There is no other way for waters to get to the Atlantic Ocean than through Winyah Bay,” Hodge said.
Roads in the northeastern parts of the county and Plantersville are already impacted, Hemingway said. National Guard and South Carolina Department of Transportation crews have worked to protect roads and bridges on U.S. Highway 17 and Highway 701 into Georgetown.
Highway 17 is a main thoroughfare into Georgetown and could close because of water on the road or strong currents of the flood below the bridge.
“If water levels reaches levels depicted in DNR models, we will lose access to Highway 17 in the north,” Hemingway said.
The National Guard positioned equipment at the roadway to ferry essential goods into Georgetown if necessary, Hemingway said. The county also staged emergency responders outside of the city areas so they can reach all parts of the county if Highway 17 is closed.
Hemingway said they also believe the Highway 701 bridge at the Horry-Georgetown county line could soon close.
Officials say that if highways 17 and 701 close, U.S. Highway 521 to the western parts of the county will be the only routes to central Georgetown.
The county activated its emergency operation center and staff had 1,600 citizen calls Sunday, Hodge said. The county opened two shelters at Waccamaw Middle School and Georgetown High School for flood evacuees. About 270 police officers from other areas also are in Georgetown to help operations and watch for potential looters.
“As we enter the next few days, we will continue to see water levels rise,” Hemingway said.
Protecting drinking water
As Georgetown started to see floodwaters move in Monday, the Army National Guard and Army Corps of Engineers was well into preparations, having spent two days building a barricade to protect a drinking-water station in Pawleys Island from potential flooding.
The facility takes water from the Waccamaw River and sends it to a filtration station and then to homes. The concern is Waccamaw River floods could reach the pump station and impact the area’s ability to get drinking water into homes.
The guard and engineering crews — all from South Carolina — worked on packing six-foot tall sections of a wall of sand around the building. They loaded pallets full of sandbags. Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Colonel Jeff Palazzini said his agency provides the technical support and materials, while the National Guard provides the manpower.
“We all live in South Carolina,” Palazzini said. “This is important to us.”
National Guard 1st Lt. Ronald Powell said about 25 guard members worked to secure the site.
“These guys, I can’t express how hard they worked,” he said.
Crews worked around the clock to protect the pump station. Powell said they worked during previous floods and natural disasters, such as Hurricane Matthew, helping South Carolina communities.
“It’s a humbling experience to witness,” Powell said.