The Daily Gamecock

Hurricane Matthew set to test already-battered South Carolina infrastructure

With rain and heavy winds forecast for this weekend, Hurricane Matthew poses yet another natural threat to South Carolinian homes, businesses and, potentially, lives.

However, the state is still recovering from last year’s flooding resulting from an off-shoot of Hurricane Joaquin that bombarded the Eastern United States and Atlantic Canada. With thousands of homes still in need of repair and dozens of dams left open across the state, one question demands to be answered: What has been done in the past year?

The S.C. Department of Commerce released an action plan on July 19  for ongoing disaster recovery efforts within the state. The 180-page document determined that about $518 million in necessary recovery funds had still gone unmet over the nine months after the 1,000-year flood. Unmet needs in housing sector alone remain about $522 million. (An almost $19 million surplus in economic recovery funds affected the total.)

While government action has stalled, some grassroots efforts have made progress. Earlier this week, United Way of the Midlands announced a new campaign entitled Restoring Hope,  which aims to repair 250 homes in the Midlands area through the fall of 2017. According to the campaign website, 1,200 households in Richland and Lexington counties are still in need of restoration.

Outside the Columbia area, Eight Days of Hope, a non-profit organization based in Mississippi, announced plans to repair hundreds of homes in Kingstree, Andrews and Georgetown in early October. 

Williamsburg County, in which Kingstree and Andrews reside, was arguably the most devastated in the state by the 2015 floods. Last October, the Black River rose to nearly twice its flood level, cresting at a record 22.65 feet in Kingstree on Oct. 7, 2015. The ensuing floodwaters damaged 28 percent of county housing units seriously enough to qualify their owners for federal aid, according the Department of Commerce. 

Public information officer Jeff Singleton of the Williamsburg County Emergency Management Division confirmed Tuesday that Eight Days of Hope will begin construction on Oct. 8.

As the Columbia area is framed by the Congaree River and Lake Murray, Richland County dams were also heavily tested by last October’s flood.

However, should Hurricane Matthew bring torrential rainfall to the Midlands, many county dams that stood in 2015 will not be tested at all. They haven't been repaired.

According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, last year’s flood caused 51 dam breaches statewide, including 19 in Richland County. Since last October, the DHEC has assessed all of South Carolina’s high and significant hazard dams and begun issuing permits for repairs. The DHEC’s Dam Safety Program also added 14 full-time members to its staff last month. 

But as Hurricane Matthew nears the Atlantic coast, only four of the 51 dams breached statewide last October have been fully repaired. Three within Richland County are still awaiting initial approval for repairs. 

A representative of DHEC declined comment Tuesday, but referred to the organization website for further information.

More Hurricane Matthew coverage:

USC classes canceled in preparation for Hurricane Matthew

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley calls for alertness, quick evacuations from coastal regions