In a late act of drenching the Carolina coast, flood waters from Hurricane Florence are set to pour into Georgetown, South Carolina.
Although the community of 9,000 avoided the eye of the storm and much of the rain in the days after the hurricane hit, flooding is now unavoidable as water flowing from far inland hits the coast.
Local officials said they expect the rivers near Georgetown to crest early on Thursday at record levels.
The community is doing everything it can to keep the historic town above water as the town expects anywhere from 5 to 10ft of water on the streets. Some 26,000 sandbags were passed out since the weekend, said Randy Akers, the deputy public information officer for the Georgetown county emergency operations center.
City offices and schools will be closed until further notice. Shelters are ready to take in families and pets. The national guard is in place to assist with water rescues.
As of Tuesday night, the town was still under voluntary evacuation, the Georgetown mayor, Brendon Barber, said. “The town is not shut down, but we’ve put aqua dams over between the bridges on [the highway],” Barber added.
The South Carolina Department of Transportation barricaded the bridge connecting Georgetown to the rest of the state with 3ft tall plastic dams. That will only hold off the water for some time and it’s simply a measure to keep the bridge and road open as long as possible, Akers explained. The highway will eventually flood, he added.
The Winyah Bay area where Georgetown sits is a convergence of every major river in this part of the state, Akers explained. “It’s basically like a five or six lane highway all coming down to one lane at the same point,” he said.
Already, water has seeped up onto historic Front Street, Barber said.
The owner of Barber’s favorite restaurant, Old Fish House aka Big Tuna, sits on the harborwalk off the Great Pee Dee River on Front Street. The patio faces the river where boats are tied to the pier. Bucky Watkins, 68, said he closed down Tuesday. “We’ve taken everything out of the restaurant: all the kitchen equipment, everything. [We’re] pretty much standing around seeing how high the water is going to come up. It’s like a record tide. They say we’re supposed to get about 5-8 [feet] and so that’s going to be inside my restaurant,” he said.
Last week, the water came up 2ft in the river and dropped immediately after Florence passed by farther north. Even with current predictions of major flooding many locals are not evacuating.
“Nothing has happened seriously yet and I trust and pray nothing don’t,” said Laura Herriott, one of the 50 remaining Gullah descendent residents of Sandy Island, which sits a short ferry ride from Georgetown. Nobody else from the small community is evacuating, she said, adding, “We’ve been checking up on each other.”
Herriott’s home is tucked between two rivers. Where she parks her car, water is already touching the tires.
Officials warned that riding out the flood might be a bad idea. “It does concern me to hear that people are going to stay where they are and hope it doesn’t impact them, especially on Sandy Island right there on the river,” Akers said.
To hammer the sense of urgency into the community, over 150 law enforcement officers from around the state have converged onto Georgetown county to drive around town with screeching sirens, urging people to consider evacuating. Nearly 8,000 households across the county could be affected, Akers added.