10 Years Ago, Hurricane Floyd Brought Flooding, Evacuations to Carolinas

September 22, 2009

In the dark of night on Sept. 15, 1999, Kelly Andreucci stood on the front porch of his childhood home along Godfrey Avenue and worried about the rain drenching his neighborhood.

That night, Hurricane Floyd skirted the Grand Strand before making landfall at Cape Fear, N.C., in the early morning as a Category 2 hurricane with 105 mph winds. The Strand experienced some scrapes from the storm’s winds, but it was the 28 inches of rain that caused the most heartache.

“That night there were sheets, sheets, sheets and sheets of rain, and I remember thinking that is not good,” Andreucci said recently, standing where his family home stood until Floyd struck, 10 years ago.

“That next morning, 45 minutes after I got here, the water started rising from flash flooding; it was up to here” he said, holding his hand at his hip, about 3 feet from the ground. “We started taking stuff upstairs and were able to get everything valuable upstairs. How? I don’t know. I guess in a crisis you do things you don’t remember, but it was a hectic 45 minutes and then we just had to leave the house. It was one of those things that was almost like a wildfire because the speed that water came up was so quick.”

The storm, which had nearly developed into a Category 5 storm as it churned toward the U.S., spurred the largest evacuation of the East Coast at that time. More than 400,000 South Carolina residents clogged state roads obeying Gov. Jim Hodges’ evacuation order to flee the coast. Thousands of residents in neighboring Georgia and North Carolina followed similar orders, causing gridlock on many major highways.

Fleeing residents spent hours trapped in traffic on U.S. 501 and inland on Interstate 95. That gridlock would prompt emergency officials to develop lane reversal plans for area roads including U.S. 501 and U.S. 17 to expedite future evacuations. They also are petitioning government officials for funding to build more roads and connections to major highways to ease such congestion.

In the days and weeks after Hurricane Floyd, the Waccamaw River charged out of its banks into downtown Conway, city neighborhoods and along S.C. 90 and S.C. 905, areas that had never flooded before, residents said. It wasn’t until Sept. 27, 1999, when the river crested at 17.6 feet, more than 6 feet above its flood stage, that the waters began to recede.

“I’ve never seen so much water in my life,” said Horry County Sheriff Phillip Thompson, who was a captain with Horry County police at the time of the storm. “Everywhere I went there was flooding. I saw water across highways where I never dreamed I’d see water. All the overflow and rain was headed to the river, and you could almost see the river rising before your eyes.”

It took weeks for the copper-colored water of the Waccamaw to flow again between the natural banks of the river. Residents waited and salvaged what they could from their homes. Once the water was gone, they began the process of rebuilding. Some, like Andreucci, never returned.

Marty Lawing, Conway’s former city administrator, oversaw operations during Floyd. He said the support from state and national agencies helped city officials cope.

“We had some time to prepare because we saw what was happening upstream on the Waccamaw. The water rose, and it took a long time to recede,” Lawing said. “It was something you don’t want to go through very often, but because of everybody’s cooperative experience and knowledge we got through it OK. Everybody was very understanding and understood it was a crisis and that it was nobody’s fault.”

To help the area handle such water in the future, improvements have been made along Crabtree Canal where much of the water backed up and flooded the city, Conway Mayor Alys Lawson said. A restoration project is under way to remove steep banks and create more natural flood plains along the canal.

But for Andreucci, who continues to live in Conway minutes from his childhood home, and other families who lost their homes and belongings, the stains of that raging water will last the rest of his life. Andreucci said he is thankful most of the family treasures in his home were spared from the floodwater.

“If it’s God’s will, it will happen,” Andreucci said. “A week from now, we might have another Katrina coming right at us and that’s the price you pay for living here along the coast. With that I wouldn’t live anywhere else.”

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