Flooding toll on South Carolina still unknown

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line associate editor | 10/6/2015

The number of lives lost in South Carolina because of flooding from a historic amount of rainfall is now 14, according to the latest reports from the state’s emergency management agency.

One of the deceased – 45-year-old SCDOT employee Timothy Gibson – was in a vehicle that was swept away by rushing floodwaters while he was inspecting flood damage in Columbia on Sunday morning.

“Timothy Gibson was just one SCDOT employee who left the safety of his own home and family on a Sunday morning to serve the state of South Carolina,” acting SCDOT secretary Christy A. Hall said in a statement shared in a post on the agency’s Facebook page. “He was working to make the roads safe again against incredible odds. But Timothy Gibson represented the hundreds of SCDOT employees who have been working tirelessly throughout the flooding ever since the preparations began late last week.”

Federal relief funds are already flowing into South Carolina, as U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced Tuesday that $5 million in emergency funds from the FHWA was made available to SCDOT for road and bridge repairs.

“Emergency relief funding will help the state begin immediately to recover from record breaking flooding,” Foxx said in a press release. “We want South Carolinians to know this funding is only a down payment on our commitment to ensuring all highways and bridges are repaired in the state. More resources will become available as estimates for the cost of repairs become clear.”

South Carolina experienced torrential rains on Oct. 2, which continued for several days. Rainfall reached more than 20 inches in many areas and produced significant flooding that damaged the state’s highways and bridges. Critical routes in the state, such as I-95, are closed and travelers are experiencing lengthy detours to bypass affected areas.

The FHWA’s Emergency Relief program provides funding for highways and bridges damaged by natural disasters or catastrophic events.

In addition to the death toll, 287 state-maintained roads and 150 state-maintained bridges remained closed because of flooding, according to reports from the South Carolina Department of Transportation. According to SCDOT, as of this afternoon, the last portion of Interstate 26 near I-126 and US 378 at the Saluda River reopened, making all of I-26 open statewide. SCDOT has been providing updates on road and bridge closures via its Twitter account. In addition, the agency offers a free mobile app for smartphones that provides real time traffic and roadway conditions.

Rick Todd, president and CEO of the South Carolina Trucking Association, called the downpour an “unprecedented event” and said it was particularly rough in an area of the state known as The Midlands, from the Atlantic Coast westward into the state capitol of Columbia.

The SCTA headquarters is located in Columbia, where Todd said state agencies are still encouraging residents to stay off the roads until the floodwaters recede.

“Our roads, our highway infrastructure, even the Norfolk Southern Railroad line out of Charleston has been closed,” he said. “We’re very concerned that when the water recedes, we’re going to see it’s exacerbated the effects of deferred maintenance on our highway system.”

Todd said on Tuesday that he’s anticipating the need for disaster relief on par with what the area requires following a major hurricane.

“We’re looking at an already strained DOT and local government,” he said. “It’s really going to pose a challenge to them going forward to fix what we got.”

When it comes to disaster relief, Todd said trucking is never more essential than during times of disaster and emergency relief.

“We are the critical form of transportation, and we will just continue to prove that,” he said. “We saw the need and the ultimate appreciation for what trucks do for us during Hurricane Hugo. It’s times like these when we get that kind of need, and eventually that kind of recognition again. This is one of those things where industry, every profession, everybody is doing everything they can. But you’ve got to have that truck. It’s the workhorse.”

As more than 1,400 state DOT employees scramble to examine the state’s infrastructure following as much as two feet of rainfall in some places, the South Carolina Emergency Management Division is working to coordinate monetary and disaster relief efforts.

The agency reported on Twitter that no additional water donations are needed. They referred volunteers to this page on their website, which lists charitable organizations the state is partnering with to coordinate disaster relief efforts.

President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in South Carolina, and Gov. Nikki Haley signed a proclamation suspending hours-of-service requirements for truckers in order to deliver equipment, supplies and other needed items to help with the flood relief. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed a similar decree.

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