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Looking for records from Loris? Roof collapse during Florence likely destroyed them

Loris City Hall is likely uninhabitable for at least a year, according to its city administrator, after Tropical Storm Florence caused a portion of its roof to collapse and inundate the building with water.
Loris City Hall is likely uninhabitable for at least a year, according to its city administrator, after Tropical Storm Florence caused a portion of its roof to collapse and inundate the building with water. jbell@thesunnews.com

Tropical Storm Florence likely washed away a major portion of Loris history.

Rain from the slow-moving storm — which made landfall in North Carolina as a hurricane — caused a roof collapse at Loris City Hall, which city administrator Damon Kempski explained was directly above the city’s records room.

The records room is where the city keeps hard copies of important documents including property deeds, personnel files, meeting minutes, business contracts, tax information and historical papers, Kempski said. The deeds can be recovered, he said.

Loris only started keeping paperless backups of documents the last 3-5 years, and Kempski said a “quite substantial” amount of the records kept in that room were the only copies they had.

“The more we talk about it, the sicker we get,” he said.

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Loris City Hall will likely be uninhabitable for at least a year, according to its city administrator, after Tropical Storm Florence caused a portion of its roof to collapse and inundated the building with water. Courtesy of Kenya Wright City of Loris

There are no laws requiring local governments to maintain backups of records, according to Richard Harris, manager of record services for the state Department of Archives and History. His department does suggest it as a best practice.

If an agency produces microfilms of records deemed of permanent value, including deeds and rights-of-way, the department requires they store a security copy with the state, Harris said, but they don’t require agencies to create microfilms.

Loris did not store any microfilms with the department, according to their online archives.

Kempski told The Sun News about the issue in response to a Freedom of Information Act request that he explained would be difficult to fulfill.

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A portion of Loris City Hall’s roof collapsed during Tropical Storm Florence directly above the city’s records department, leaving many important records likely destroyed. Courtesy of Kenya Wright City of Loris

Once insurance representatives and FEMA assess the total damages to Loris City Hall, Kempski said city officials will begin work to see what records can be preserved, but he noted some that he already saw were unreadable.

So much rain fell into the records room after the roof collapse that pressure from the water broke the closed door in half, spilling water throughout the building, he said.

The portion of the roof that collapsed is fairly flat and lower than most of the roof, so the rain likely accumulated there for a while before the collapse, Kempski said.

Kempski guessed that city employees would be displaced for at least a year. They currently are working out of the city’s public safety building, at 3909 Walnut St. He praised Kenya Wright, the city clerk treasurer, for getting city services back operational within 48 hours following discovery of the flooding.

While most the records and office furniture were destroyed, Kempski said, they were able to save some important items, including the city’s first postmaster’s desk and paintings of previous mayors.

David Weissman: @WeissmanMBO; 843-626-0305

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