Work underway as South Carolina recovers from massive floods

Published 10:15 am Monday, October 12, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Life has started to return to normal in areas of South Carolina inundated by massive floods from days of rain earlier this month. But challenges still remain, including getting Columbia’s water system back in shape and repairing bridges that are forcing Interstate 95 drivers on the East Coast into a more than two-hour detour.

What needs fixing

The capital of Columbia continues to slowly fix its water system. Workers are trying to shore up the canal that the city uses to bring in drinking water after a breach nearly drained the waterway. They also are trying to finish fixing dozens of water line breaks caused by the massive floods earlier this month.

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The city has been able to tell about 10 percent of its 375,000 customers they no longer have to boil water from their taps before drinking it.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said he’s hopeful the city can lift the advisory for all customers in the next week or so.

“It’s going to be very methodical, and it’s going to be very conservative,” he said in a phone interview, describing the process of lifting the advisory.

Repairs continue to the Columbia Canal, which the city uses to draw water into most of its system. The canal nearly ran dry after a breach during the floods. While the hole in the canal wall is repaired, city workers are also pumping water into the canal from the nearby Broad River.

The mayor said repairs are going well along the canal: “I believe we might be a little bit ahead of schedule right now.”

The boil water advisory for most of Columbia’s water customers will continue until the supply of water is stabilized and repairs are made.

Work also continues to repair 13 small bridges on Interstate 95 in Clarendon County. A 16-mile stretch remains closed where the major East Coast highway goes through lowlands and swamps and over the Black and Pocotaligo rivers.

The South Carolina Department of Transportation said it hopes to have I-95 reopened in a few days. Drivers on I-95 currently have to take a 168-mile detour through Columbia instead of the normal 74-mile drive from Interstate 26 to Interstate 20.

Returning to normal

Perhaps the biggest sign that the flooding and problems were winding down came when South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley did not talk to reporters for the first time in more than a week.

Schools are also starting again. The University of South Carolina will welcome students back Monday after an unscheduled week break.

A number of local school districts are also returning, although some are delaying the start of school by two hours so buses can travel their new routes in daylight. Hundreds of bridges and roads across the state remain closed from flood damage.

Also, the South Carolina Department of Transportation will start sending contractors out to clean up debris left at the side of the road Monday. Local governments are doing the same.