Florence Update: SC 9 still closed, volunteer/donation hotline established, shelters consolidate, water falls in Fair Bluff, FEMA contacts

Student athletes and other volunteers arrange donated disaster relief supplies at Tabor City Elementary School Monday morning. (Deuce Niven/TLT)

By DEUCE NIVEN

tribdeuce@tabor-loris.com

Tuesday

SC 9 remains closed

     A major highway to the Grand Strand did not re-open Tuesday, as we incorrectly reported here earlier today.

     After receiving a report that the roadway was open, we checked on a South Carolina DOT web page that appeared to show the roadway was not closed. That was wrong, and we apologize for the error.

     Portions of US 501 and SC 22 also remain closed due to flooding, the DOT reported.

Volunteer/donation hotline

     A volunteer/donation hotline has been established in and for Columbus County, its purpose “to match volunteers with organizations in a recovery effort and to accept financial donations through the charitable nonprofit, Columbus County Disaster Response, Inc.,” an agency news release said.

     Those who wish to volunteer with Hurricane Florence recovery efforts in Columbus County should call 910-640-2142 or email VolunterColumbusNC@gmail.com.

     Volunteers will be told of opportunities to serve and be matched with organizations working in their communities.

     Charitable donations can be made at ColumbusCountyDisasterResponse.org  or by mail to Columbus Co. Disaster Response, PO Box 1844, Whiteville, NC 28472.

     “We will connect people to volunteer agencies that need them,” said Volunteer Coordinator Dr.  Melody Prevatte. “They can contact us and we will find something that fits their abilities at the level they want to be involved.”

     Volunteers should not take on tasks for which they have no experience or training, Prevatte stressed. That includes operating equipment with which they are not familiar, or exceeding an individual’s physical limits.

     “We don’t want anyone to be overtaken by enthusiasm and end up injured by a chainsaw or by moving too heavy an object,” Prevatte said. “Your safety as a volunteer, whether you’re helping the lady across the street or working with a crew to clear a road, must come first.”

     Prevatte encouraged Columbus County residents to check on their neighbors, especially the elderly, as their first volunteer action. Individuals needing assistance should contact the appropriate governmental or community agency.

     The Volunteer Hotline is a collaborative of Columbus County Emergency Services and Columbus County Disaster Response, Inc.

Shelters consolidate in CC

     American Red Cross shelters at three schools in Columbus County Closed Tuesday, 103 evacuees relocated to the City of Whiteville Recreation Center, Columbus County Deputy Emergency Management Director David Ransom said.

     With evacuees out of shelters at South and West Columbus high schools, and Edgewood Elementary in Whiteville, school officials can prepare those facilities for the return of students.

     Columbus County Schools expect to have students back in class Monday, with the Whiteville City Schools to resume normal operations tomorrow (Wednesday).

     Because of the shelter decision, most Whiteville Recreation programs are on hold until further notice, with the exception of its football program, a city news release said.

Water recedes in Fair Bluff

     “It’s going down, slowly and surely,” Fair Bluff Mayor Billy Hammond said of floodwater levels downtown Tuesday afternoon.

     Flood waters exceeded that from Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, the long-term impact on the town as murky as the overflowed Lumber River.

     “We got a lot of water,” Hammond said. “A lot more than from Matthew.”

     Two years ago some of the River Bend apartments flooded, Hammond said. Waters from Hurricane Florence invaded every unit.

     Fair Bluff’s Dollar General, gutted and restored after flooding during Matthew, reportedly had even more water inside this time, the mayor said.

     Owners of both River Bend Apartments and the Dollar General have given some indications they will return, though perhaps not in the same space for the latter.

     “Dollar General said they would most likely be back, but probably on higher ground,” Hammond said.

     A spot on NC 904 west where flooding has never taken place would better capture beach-bound traffic, a potential double-bonus for the store, Hammond said.

     Still recovering from Hurricane Matthew, Hammond said he’s been promised a more robust and rapid recovery effort from Gov. Roy Cooper and FEMA leaders.

     In his conversation with the governor, Hammond said “I said ‘We’ll see. I’ve got to see it before I believe it.”

FEMA

     Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) workers have fanned out Columbus County to assist those impacted by Hurricane Florence.

     FEMA staff members should have a photo ID and be wearing shirts with the FEMA emblem, Columbus County Emergency Management Director Kay Worley said.

     To report a disaster claim contact FEMA here or call 800-621-3362.

Monday evening

Education waiver

     Some or all of the days missed by students in North Carolina counties declared as disaster areas may be forgiven if a proposed bill becomes law.

     State Rep. Brenden Jones of Tabor City says he has already signaled support for the proposed bill in a letter to NC House Speaker Rep. Timothy Moore.

     Columbus is among the counties that have been declared a disaster area. Students in the county schools have been out of the classroom since Sept. 11, and as of Monday were not expected to return until Monday, Oct. 1.

     Ten month employees have optional work days beginning Tuesday through the end of the week.

     In the Whiteville City Schools students return to class on their regular schedule Wednesday, the district announced Monday.

Some highways reopen

     Major highways in North Carolina are open, some not completely, as floodwaters from Hurricane Florence recede, the NC Department of Transportation reports.

     US 74 re-opened at Boardman and the Columbus/Robeson county line Sunday night, and in areas east of Whiteville Monday. Delays on the busy highway are still possible, especially in the Whiteville area and between that city and Lake Waccamaw, because of ongoing highway repairs.

     Online updates on road closings across the state are available from the DOT’s Transportation Information Management System (TIMS) at tims.ncdot.gov.

     Motorists are still advised by DOT to avoid travelling because of impacts to highways by the hurricane and flooding.

     Major impacts remain across the county, including southern sections including NC 904 in Fair Bluff, where downtown and the bridge into Robeson County remained underwater Monday; NC 905 near Nakina; NC 130 at the Brunswick County line; and a portion of Old Dothan Road near Pireway.

     DOT and other emergency officials urge the travelling public to heed barricades, warning that going around them can be dangerous, even deadly.

Shelters

     American Red Cross shelters in Columbus County remained open Monday, while the number of shelters in Horry County was cut in half, officials in both counties said.

     Shelters at South Columbus and West Columbus high schools, and at Edgewood Elementary in Whiteville, are expected to close this week as school leaders prepare to get students back in the classroom.

     In Horry County shelters that remain open include Loris Elementary, North Myrtle Beach High, Whittemore Park Middle, Palmetto Bay Elementary, City of Conway Parks and Recreation, and Horry Georgetown Tech Grand Strand Campus. In some areas of Horry floodwaters are still rising as a result of the hurricane.

Mosquito spraying

     Mosquito spraying in norther sections of Horry County is scheduled for this evening.

     Ground spraying, from trucks, will continue in morning and evenings at various locations throughout the county in an effort to control the mosquito population exploding because of water from Hurricane Florence.

     EPA approved chemicals pose “minimal risk to humans or animals,” a county news release said. Those with asthma or other respiratory illness may wish to stay indoors and close windows and doors when spraying is underway.

     Homegrown fruits and vegetables should be washed, scrubbed, and/or peeled before eating.

     Beekeepers are urged to contact Horry County Stormwater to identify the location of their colonies. They, and those who wish to request spraying in their area may contact the Horry County Road & Drainage Hotline at 843-381-8000.

Updates

     Updates will be posted here as events warrant and as is possible, with complete coverage in the next Tabor-Loris Tribune in print and online.

Monday morning

Another week out for CC schools

     Plans to re-open the Columbus County Schools for students this week have been scrapped, with a new target of Monday, Oct. 1 for classes to resume for the first time since Sept. 11, school district spokesman Kelly Jones said Monday.

     That will mark 13 days of missed classes for the district as school workers scramble to get facilities in shape for returning students.

     “There are a lot of leaks and issues like that,” Jones said.

Optional teacher work days will be in place later in the week, Jones said.

Distribution

     Disaster relief supplies donated by Tabor City High School alum Ryan James who now owns an auction company in the Winston-Salem area, Class of 1989 classmate Davene Fowler said.

     “He contacted some folks and got donations and we got a U-Haul full of supplies,” Fowler said.

     Spearheading the organizational effort on the Tabor City end was Rachel Todd.

     “Ryan called me and said organize it on this end, and he would take care of it on his end,” Todd said.

After securing the school as a distribution point, calles went out to faculty and staff, coaches, church members and more for what would prove to be a massive effort to offload and organize the supplies for distribution.

     “A lot of hours went into this,” Todd said.

     Volunteers football players from South Columbus High and Tabor City Middle schools.

     A long line extended from the school cafeteria into the bus parking lot as distribution began at 10 a.m. Monday.

     “They’ve been lined up since 8 0-clock,” Principal Terry Brown said.

     Only a limited number of people were allowed in at a time. For one elderly woman, one item seemed most important, a package of AA batteries.

     “Oh, I need those,” she said, her need quickly filled.

Updates

     Updates will be posted here as events warrant and as is possible, with complete coverage in the next Tabor-Loris Tribune in print and online.

Contractor Davy Simmons fills in a road-shoulder washout on Peacock Road in the Mill Branch area Sunday morning. Water rushing under the highway through a drainage tile carved a significant whole in the earth across from the outlet, and undermined the road shoulder and roadway integrity, Simmons said. (Deuce Niven/TLT)

Sunday evening

Day of work

     Sunday was more a day of work than a day of rest for many impacted by Hurricane Florence more than a week after the massive storm made landfall at Wrightsville beach and spread misery by the gallon across broad sections of the Carolinas and beyond.

     State Department of Transportation crews and contractors in Columbus and Horry counties were out mitigating damages caused by the storm and related flooding, and in some sections of Horry preparing for still more flooding with some rivers, notably the Waccamaw, not expected to crest for several more days.

Brent Flanagan puts the finishing cut on a tall pine at the Economy Inn in Tabor City Sunday, sending the tree guided by rope crashing safely away from nearby power lines and the motel. (Deuce Niven/TLT)

     Tree crews were doing both public and private jobs, like the crew that had stopped for the night at the Economy Inn in Tabor City, and ended up with a job.

     “The owner said they had some tree work that needed doing,” Gary Rahn said. “We said we would.”

     For two days the four-man crew cut a line of trees adjacent to a significant power line, carefully pulling tree sections in safe directions, drawing some spectators from time to time.

     By dusk Sunday, the trees were on the ground, the pieces placed along U.S. 701 for later removal.

That smell

     Some communities inundated by flood waters brought on by Florence are dealing with an odor issue.

     Fair Bluff has not been spared, Fair Bluff Fire/Rescue Assistant Chief Ken Elliott said Sunday.

     “It smells worse than after Matthew,” Elliott said. “It’s bad.”

     A discharge of more than a half-million gallons of raw sewage from the wastewater treatment plant at Fairmont, which also handles waste from Fair Bluff, may be contributing to the odor.

     A legally required news release from the town of Fairmont said 550,000 gallons of sewage was released from the plant and entered the Lumber River over a four-day period when a generator supplying power at the facility in Orrum failed.

     That generator was back in service last Wednesday.

No ‘secondary crest’

     A “secondary crest” of the Lumber River at Fair Bluff, and downstream at Nichols, now seems unlikely, Elliott said.

     Though initially predicted by the National Weather Service, flood waters have subsided enough to eliminate that possibility, Elliott said NWS officials have said.

     Flooding from Florence has rivaled the damage from Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, with waters in some areas in Fair Bluff apparently higher than after Matthew, in some areas marginally lower.

     “The water’s going down,” Elliott said, “just not fast enough.”

     Water levels should be low enough to allow passage from one side of Fair Bluff early this week, Elliott said. Once that happens FBFR will abandon its temporary command post near the Hill’s grocery store and move operations back to the NC National Guard Armory. Those two areas are isolated, with the Lumber River invading downtown and adjacent neighborhoods.

     A single fire engine and ambulance has remained at the armory since the flooding began, providing service to the west side of Fair Bluff, an area with a smaller population than the east side.

     “We’ve had one EMS call over there,” Elliott said.

     An engine crew from Midway Fire Department in Davidson County, and an EMS crew from West Memphis, Arkansas have backed up Fair Bluff crews. Midway crews left Sunday, the Arkansas team was due to depart Monday.

     “After that, it’s back to normal operations for us,” Elliott said.

Property damage self-reporting

     Property owners and renters in Horry County have a new tool to inform the county of the location, owner, extent of damage, and status of property affected by the hurricane and related flooding.

     Data and photos reported through this website will help the county to assess the comprehensive impact of Hurricane Florence, and to determine the best long-term recovery strategies for affected communities, a news release from county government said.

     Access the Property Damage Self-Reporting Tool at horrycounty.org.

     Homeowners who have experienced property damage are encouraged to contact FEMA directly to determine if they are eligible for financial assistance.

     To apply for FEMA funding visit disasterassistance.gov, or call the registration phone number at 800-621-3362. Those with a speech disability or hearing loss may use TTY by calling 800-462-7585. Those utilizing 711 or video relay service (VRS) may call 800-621-3362.

Updates

     Updates will be posted here as events warrant and as is possible, with complete coverage in the next Tabor-Loris Tribune in print and online.