Water in several South Carolina rivers remains high after flooding reached levels unseen in a quarter-century.
A combination of a wet spring and heavy rains earlier this month pushed several rivers over their banks, including the Broad River, which had risen at least 15 feet when I visited it last week.
Normally, in the scene shown above, rocks are visible, turtles, river otter and fish are readily evident, and the foundations of a train bridge destroyed during the War Between the States can be seen.
However, flooding, exacerbated by heavy rains in the northern part of the state, had pushed the river over its banks to a degree that metal picnic tables normally far out of reach of the river were barely above water.
Even more fascinating was an area approximately a mile to the west, the location of an abandoned rail bridge converted into a walking path over the past half decade.
For 98 percent of the year, a small stream approximately four feet across and a foot deep flows under the bridge, which is about 750 feet across.
On this day, the entire area under the bridge was flooded, up to 20 feet deep in places, and water was moving toward the Broad River, rather than simply being backed up by river overflow.
There’s something awe-inspiring about flooding, particularly when the water is on the move. Massive amounts of water cruising past at enhanced speeds can’t help but impress, especially when it’s laden with flotsam such as fallen trees.
I’ve seen but a handful of floods during my four dozen years. The first was during high school, when a three-day storm along the California coast led to a massive mudslide in the Santa Cruz Mountains and flooding in town that resulted in the deaths of 22 people.
Besides the incredible flow of water coursing down the San Lorenzo River, which eventually destroyed part of a major concrete bridge, my most vivid memory is traveling up the coast a couple of days later with friends and finding the most amazing array of sea life washed ashore, including abalone, five dead octopuses and a sea lion – none of which I have come across before or since.
In 1995, after I had moved back to California, the Pajaro River, to the south of Santa Cruz, broke through its levee and spread out across the flat, fertile farmland around Watsonville for miles, creating the largest flood in a century to hit the central Monterey Bay area.
And in 1999 I traveled to the Conway, SC, near Myrtle Beach, to visit areas flooded by Hurricane Floyd while working for a newspaper.
This opportunity offered me my first real chance to see a flood up close and personal, as I was ferried around in johnboat to flooded house after flooded house, some almost completely underwater, others only half-submerged.
Among things that stand out from that trip was watching out for underwater mailboxes as we motored down flooded streets, so we wouldn’t bust the propeller off the boat’s motor, the stillness of the deep brown water both inside and outside houses, and clumps of fire ants floating on tree bark, debris and anything else they could find to latch on to.
Flooding, of course, doesn’t go away overnight; in some cases in can take weeks for water to subside. Often, the psychological scars last much longer.
The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 not only devastated the Mississippi River basin, affecting Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, it led the eventual migrations of hundreds of thousands of blacks from the region.
Officially, the death toll was 246, but it was likely much higher, given imprecise accounting methods used at the time and the fact that black deaths were often overlooked by whites in power.
The Mississippi was at flood stage for more than 150 days that year and the 1927 flood led to a change in attitudes regarding the government’s role in helping its citizens in time of crisis, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture.
“Prior to this time, people generally feared ‘the dole’ and preferred work to ‘charity.’ However, the enormity of the catastrophe led many to support the type of New Deal programs proposed by Franklin Roosevelt’s Democratic administration in 1932,” according to the work.