Historic flooding inundates South Carolina

More than 16 inches of rain fell near Columbia, South Carolina, on Sunday -- the most rain in one spot, on one day, anywhere in the U.S. in 16 years. Days of nonstop rain have killed nine people and closed 550 roads and bridges. Officials warned it could take weeks to reopen everything and Gov. Nikki Haley said it would be a long recovery. William Brangham reports.

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    South Carolina lay stricken today, with cities, towns and roads inundated by the worst flooding on record. Days of nonstop rain have killed nine people, driven hundreds into shelters, and left thousands more without power or drinkable water.

    Some of the worst was in the state's capital, as William Brangham reports.


    Parts of Columbia, South Carolina, were simply swallowed up today by the rising waters. It was chest-high and higher in some parts of the city. And, even as the rain began finally tapering off, there were new warnings.

    GOV. NIKKI HALEY (R), South Carolina: This is not over. Just because the rain stops doesn't mean that we are out of the woods.


    In a briefing today, Governor Nikki Haley appealed to people not to take chances.


    I do want to see that — say that we have had word that there are people who are taking their boats to the Lake Murray Dam to take pictures of all the water that we're trying to release. That is extremely dangerous and this is — I can't stress enough that this is not a fun event.


    All that water is the result of a slow-moving storm system that lingered over the Southeast and sucked in moisture from Hurricane Joaquin spinning out in the Atlantic. On Sunday alone, more than 16 inches of rain fell on the Gills Creek area near Columbia. That's one of the largest totals on one day anywhere in the United States in 15 years.

    Hundreds of people also had to be rescued around Columbia. This video captured one dramatic moment, as a Coast Guard team aboard a helicopter pulled a mother and her small child to safety. The flooding also shut down some 550 roads and bridges across the state and 75 miles of Interstate 95, and officials warned it could take weeks to reopen everything.

  • State Adjutant General Bob Livingston Jr.:

  • MAJ. GEN. BOB LIVINGSTON JR., Adjutant General, South Carolina National Guard:

    The roads are still unsafe. A lot of them have been undermined by the flooding. And so the road may look perfect on top, but if you drive across it, it could collapse. We have had that happen to our rescue crews. And we're having to do engineering evaluations on those, so, again, don't get out unless you have to.


    Elsewhere, cemeteries, like this one in Springfield, were so saturated that coffins were coming out of the ground. And on the coast, Charleston reported its worst flooding since Hurricane Hugo roared through back in 1989.

    Not far away, in Summerville, drone footage showed entire neighborhoods submerged around Cane Bay.

    Governor Haley warned recovery will be slow, as the surging waters continue following their paths to the ocean.


    This is going to be a process. It is going to be one where we have to prioritize and we have to stay on it. It's going to be one where we're going to be OK, but we are really going to have to take it one step at a time.


    Meanwhile, Columbia and two of its surrounding counties are under a nighttime curfew, and some 375,000 people have been warned to boil their tapwater to make it drinkable.

    I'm William Brangham for the PBS NewsHour.

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