The Daily Gamecock

Flash flood soaks campus, submerges cars

Sudden storm brings more than 3 inches of rain



A sudden deluge of driving rain flooded Columbia early Sunday night, turning a quiet evening into a chaotic mess of blocked roads, stoplights without power and houses without Internet and cable.

All told, about 3.24 inches of rain fell between 5:40 and 6:40 p.m., according to the National Weather Service. It was accompanied by loud booms of thunder and sharp streaks of lightning that brightened a deeply darkened Columbia sky. The storm comes on the heels of a monster rainstorm Friday that blocked roads and led to flooding and towed cars.

“The fact that it had been wet before caused flooding to be worse than it would have been,” said Dan Miller, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

About five cars were stuck on campus Sunday evening, said Eric Grabski, associate director of USC’s Department of Law Enforcement and Safety. At least two were submerged underneath the Pendleton Street bridge. Several USC buildings — including the Close-Hipp Building and Thomas Cooper Library — were infiltrated by flood waters. It was unclear how much damage was immediately sustained during the storm.

Officers responded to each building, but a full report of the damages wasn’t available Sunday night, Grabski said. There were no injuries reported on campus, according to Grabski. All campus streets had reopened by 9 p.m., Grabski said.

USC used Carolina Alert, its emergency notification system, to notify students via social media. The university did not send out a text message.

Several streets in the Five Points area were blocked Sunday evening, and cars were stuck underwater all around Columbia. Businesses in Five Points faced rising flood waters and product damage.

Melodie Ingwersen, owner of Creative Kids Toy Shop on Saluda Avenue, said this flood was the most rapid and widespread one she’s seen in her 25 years as a Columbia resident.

“It was amazing how quickly it rose when it reached capacity,” she said over a phone interview while the carpet of her shop was being cleaned.

“We sandbagged the inside of the front door,” Ingwersen said. “It helped stop a few gallons of water.”

Jacob Parritt, a Cayce resident wearing nothing but shorts, pushed his car out of Five Points Sunday evening. Others faced the same task a few miles away at Rocky Branch Creek.

Located near Swearingen Engineering Building and The Lofts at USC, the creek surged to more than 12 feet Sunday evening. The area, long a low point that floods during high periods of rain, reached the highest level it has seen since a new gauge was installed in 2007.

Residents of The Lofts at USC streamed down to the back parking lot of the apartment complex to view what was once the intersection of Whaley and Main streets.

The beautiful double rainbows over what was now Lake Whaley-Main contrasted the ugly situation below. The streets had become rivers that flooded a fourth of the lot. Dozens of students ringed the lake on both sides of the impassable intersection. Several students were walking across the train track bridge over Whaley just to get back to Bates.

A Honda Civic was swept out of its spot and hit the Four Loko sign next to the Kangaroo gas station. Only a bit of the hood shown above the water. Christopher Wood, a fourth-year elementary education student, came downstairs to see his green pickup truck half submerged in water.

“Right now I have water up into my seats,” Wood said. “I wish this was a disclaimer. I wish [The Lofts] had told us to seek higher ground in case of rain.”

But Lofts residents didn’t have to leave the building to see flooding. The basement level of the complex was flooded, including the game and laundry rooms. Tyler Coffman, a third-year mechanical engineering student, was among several residents whose rooms took on substantial water.

“This is the second time in two months,” Coffmann said as he stood over his soaked carpet. “Mine flooded in July when the water main busted. I tried to move to another room but there were none available. Last time this happened they didn’t call me for two weeks because I was in Charleston.”

After the flood subsided, a beautiful double rainbow permeated the Columbia sky. Parritt and Ingwersen took a positive attitude to the flash flood. Before he pushed a friend's car out, Parritt did a cannonball in the water.

As for Ingwersen?

“We’ll come out of it with some package damaging so we’ll have some clearance sales,” she said with a chuckle.

Cassie Stanton, Kevin Burke and Jeremy Aaron contributed reporting.