Conway property owners trying to repair after flooding may need to elevate homes

Socastee woman’s flooded home being rebuilt by charity

Carol Nash, whose longtime husband died shortly before Hurricance Florence hit, had no idea how she would rebuild her flooded Socastee home before Samaritan's Purse stepped in to help.
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Carol Nash, whose longtime husband died shortly before Hurricance Florence hit, had no idea how she would rebuild her flooded Socastee home before Samaritan's Purse stepped in to help.

Property owners in Conway trying to rebuild after flooding damages from Hurricane Florence are finding they likely need to raise their homes to make significant repairs.

Robert Cooper, a plan reviewer for the city’s Building Department, said anybody seeking permits to conduct home repairs needs to have an elevation certificate to show they’re in compliance.

For Conway, compliance means the home is at least two feet above flood zone levels. The city uses three different flood zones — the current state-approved map, the one currently under consideration by the county and another based on flooding levels from Hurricane Matthew in 2016 — and Cooper said he decides compliance based on the highest zone for each property.

The two-foot buffer, known as a freeboard, is a common tool used by municipalities to ensure greater compliance, Cooper said.

County spokeswoman Taylor Newell said city council passed an ordinance accepting the two other flood maps the county hasn’t currently approved to try to avoid repeated flooding in the same areas.

“The biggest thing is for public safety,” Newell said, noting how first responders are having to put themselves in danger to save people from their homes every storm.

If a home isn’t in compliance, Conway officials will only grant the owners a building permit worth the value of up to 50 percent of the home value, a rule derived from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

That amount allotted will be in perpetuity until the property owner brings the home into compliance, meaning a property owner who spends the full 50 percent on repairs now without raising the home will not be allowed to spend any more on repairs or improvements in the future.

This could affect those property owners looking to sell, as Cooper said he’s been fielding tons of calls from realtors about the status of various homes.

The home value, exclusive of any value the property holds, is based on a formula of $90 per square foot minus depreciation, though Cooper said homeowners can submit an appraisal if they disagree with that valuation. He said a couple homeowners have gone this route and ended up with a higher home value, but the FEMA formula represented a higher estimation for others.

Cooper added that many seeking permits are already in compliance but just need elevation certification to prove it.

Local surveyor Will Fairey, of Spartina Land Surveying, said the use of multiple flood maps presents major headaches for surveyors because of differences in starting elevations, but elevation certifications represent a relatively minor part of his business.

Fairey and Ken Jordan, another local surveyor, said they charge $500 to conduct elevation surveys.

Jess White is still waiting to see the results of an elevation survey on his family’s Busbee Street home before deciding his next move, but he suspects it won’t be two feet above Matthew flood levels.

White said his family has owned the home since 1954, and this past fall is the first time it has flooded. He’ll consider raising the home depending on the condition and cost, but he’s prepared to just tear down the whole house and start from scratch if needed.

White’s home is one of 378 homes in Conway damaged by flooding from Hurricane Florence, according to Newell. A total of 33 homes, all in the Sherwood neighborhood, were deemed “substantially damaged,” meaning homes in the flood zone that were damaged enough to prevent owners from moving back in without significant repairs.

David Covington and Maura Walbourne paddle a canoe to their home on Long Ave. on Sunday. The Sherwood Drive area of Conway, S.C., began to look like a lake on Sunday as homes were submerged deeper in flood waters that have set historic records.

Newell noted that the “substantially damaged” figure would be higher if they could list homes not in flood zones. The city has purchased 20 properties as part of the FEMA buyout program with plans to purchase 30-40 more, Newell said.

Some lower-income property owners hoping to stay have gotten assistance rebuilding from an organization called Samaritan’s Purse.

Frank Antes, a volunteer builder with the evangelical nonprofit group, said he and his team have been working to repair several homes in Conway and other parts of the county, and those repairs often include the need to elevate homes.

The organization is reliant on donations, Antes said, and they plan to continue helping people in Horry County rebuild until their entire budget is spent, likely another year or two.

Carol Nash is one resident being helped by Samaritan’s Purse, and she said she had no idea what she was going to do before they offered to help.

Nash’s husband of 36 years died unexpectedly months before Hurricane Florence hit the Carolinas coast, and they had dropped their flood insurance a couple years earlier.

“We dropped it just before (Hurricane) Matthew to save some money,” she said, adding that water reached just underneath their mobile home in Socastee in 2016.

Once Florence flooding had reached her front steps, her son made her leave, and the water continued to rise several feet into her home, where she’s lived about 30 years.

FEMA didn’t give her enough money to rebuild, and she couldn’t get a loan because she’s on a fixed income, so Good Samaritan’s help has been a blessing, she said.

She’s bouncing around local motels with her son, whose home across the street from hers was completely destroyed, and grandchildren while the charity group rebuilds and refurbishes her residence.

“I’m a survivor; I’ve survived worse than,” she said, pausing. “Well, actually this is probably the worst experience I’ve been through, but I’ll keep going.”

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Investigative project reporter David Weissman joined The Sun News after three years working at The York Dispatch in Pennsylvania, where he earned awards for his investigative reports on topics including health, business, politics and education.