11 dead as Hurricane Joaquin brings ‘historic’ flooding to US

October 5, 2015
A car is submerged in floodwaters in Florence, S.C., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015 after steady rain left many roads impassable, while flooding continues in many parts of the state. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

A car is submerged in floodwaters in Florence, S.C., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015 after steady rain left many roads impassable, while flooding continues in many parts of the state. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Another day of heavy rain drenched an already inundated South Carolina on Monday as rescue teams went door-to-door to check on people in swamped neighborhoods and authorities surveyed a statewide road system torn apart by historic flooding.

At least 11 weather-related deaths in two states were blamed on the vast rainstorm, with one of the latest coming when a sedan drove around a barricade and stalled in rushing waters. The driver drowned, but a woman who was riding in the car managed to climb on top of it and was rescued by a firefighter who waded into the water.

“She came out the window. How she got on top of the car and stayed there like she did with that water- there’s a good Lord,” Kershaw County Coroner David West said.

Heavy rain kept falling Monday around the Carolinas from the storm that began in the Southeast last week, part of an unprecedented system that dumped more than a foot of rain across South Carolina and drenched several other states.

Sunday was the wettest day in the history of South Carolina’s capital city Columbia, according to the National Weather Service.

The 16.6 inches of rain that fell on the Gills Creek area near Columbia on Sunday was the rainiest day in one single spot in the U.S. in more than 16 years, among weather stations with more than 50 years of record-keeping.

The last time there was that much rain in one spot on a single day was Sept. 16, 1999, when 18.3 inches fell on Southport, North Carolina, during Hurricane Floyd.

“The flooding is unprecedented and historical,” said Dr. Marshall Shepherd, a meteorologist and director of the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia, in an email to The Associated Press.

He said the unique double punch of the upper level low – aided by a “river” of tropical moisture in the atmosphere from Hurricane Joaquin spinning far out in the Atlantic – gave the monster rainstorm its punch.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has said the deluge is the kind of storm seen only once in 1,000 years.

On Monday, she said 550 roads and bridges were closed across the state. All will have to be checked for structural integrity, which could take weeks or longer.

Even though the rain has tapered off in some areas, she said floodwaters will continue to rise in some areas as rainwater runs down the state toward the coast.

“This is not over. Just because the rain stops does not mean that we are out of the woods,” Haley said at a news conference.

Haley said that nine people have died in the state since the storm started. Two additional weather-related deaths were reported in North Carolina.

At least three people were killed Sunday in South Carolina, including a transportation worker who died overseeing work near downtown Columbia, a woman who was swept away in her SUV and the man who drove around the barricade Sunday night in the Lugoff community northeast of Columbia, said the coroner said.

McArthur Woods, 56, drowned after his car was inundated. His passenger was rescued when someone who heard her screams called 911 around 10 p.m. The woman was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Authorities weren’t able to recover Woods’ body until Monday morning.

Haley said that 25 emergency shelters are open, housing more than 900 people. Utility crews, meanwhile, were working to restore power to 26,000 people still without power, she said.

More than 40,000 people are without water and water distribution sites are being set up.

The deluge made for otherworldly scenes in Columbia as floodwaters nearly touched the stoplights Sunday at one downtown intersection. Rainwater cascaded like a waterfall over jagged asphalt where a road sheered apart, and many cars were submerged under flooded streets.

The flooding forced hundreds of weekend rescues and threatened the drinking water supply for Columbia, with officials warning some could be without potable water for days because of water main breaks. The capital city told all 375,000 of its water customers to boil water before drinking.

Elsewhere, nearly 75 miles of Interstate 95 – the main link from the Southeast U.S. to the Northeast – was closed.

Among those rescued were a woman and baby lifted to safety by helicopter, but efforts were far from over.

Columbia Police Chief William Holbrook issued a statement Monday saying search teams would check for any people still needing evacuation, and crews will mark the front doors of homes checked with a fluorescent orange X once searched.

Those in distress should call 911 and they will be taken out on military vehicles and bused to shelters, he said.

Many schools and colleges, including the University of South Carolina, canceled classes Monday and some businesses planned to stay shuttered. State climatologists have said the sun could peek out Tuesday.

Rescue crews used boats on Sunday to evacuate the family of Jeff Whalen, whose house backs up on Gills Creek.

“I got up around 6:15 and a neighbor called to tell us we should get out as soon as we can,” Whalen said. “About that point it was about a foot below the door and when we left it was a foot in the house. It came quickly obviously.”

The flooding also prompted acts of kindness in Columbia.

Rawlings LaMotte, 38, a residential real estate broker, said he and a friend got into a small motorboat and ended up ferrying several people to safety, including a man who had been out of town and found roads to his home blocked.

“Until you’ve experienced something like this, you have no idea how bad it really is,” LaMotte said.