Dramatic rescues and survival stories in the Carolinas (+video)
A mother and child were plucked by helicopter from a roof in South Carolina. There were among hundreds of rescues as the worst rains on record hit the Carolinas.
Columbia, S.C. — Relentless rains and floodwaters brought much of South Carolina to a standstill.
Since Friday, more than 20 inches of rain has fallen in some parts of Columbia. The National Weather Service says Gills Creek, an area that has seen neighborhoods and thoroughfares under water, had recorded 20.28 inches as of early Monday morning. The National Weather Service says Sunday was the wettest day in the history of Columbia.
The storm stretched beyond South Carolina - in Georgia, more than 14,000 customers were still without power early Monday. That's down from 33,000 at the height of outages in the state. Many of the outages were in hard-hit Habersham County, where schools are closed Monday. Rain and high winds that toppled trees caused the outages.
Thousands warily watched rising creeks, others had to be rescued after water spilled into their homes. Still others helped save neighbors. The following are vignettes from people in the storm:
A mother and her baby were rescued Sunday from their roof top via helicopter.
The U.S. Coast Guard said in a news release that a crew plucked Cristi Mueller and her 15-month-old daughter Kailynn Walts from the roof of their home in Huger, S.C..
Crews got reports at around 6:20 a.m. Sunday that the family was stranded due to severe flooding in the neighborhood.
A crew aboard an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Savannah, Georgia, was launched to rescue the two. Mueller and her daughter were taken to Mt. Pleasant Regional Airport. Officials say the woman and her child were not hurt.
“Me and my husband are very proud of our Coast Guard,” said Mueller. “They went above and beyond and made something scary a lot less traumatic,” reported WBTW Channel 13.
Wilson McElveen lives on a hill in a place called Forest Acres, but just down the hill, neighbors were flooded out of their townhomes by water surging over a nearby dam.
He said the rushing waters burst through the doors of one home, and emergency responders had to use an ax to break down the door of another townhome to rescue a woman.
"We've seen people lose everything," said his wife, Sharon McElveen, noting they lost only a small boat. "It just floated away. But I could care less about that stupid boat."
They have taken in friends who need a place to stay.
Brenda Van De Grift said her husband got trapped in his car while driving to work Sunday morning at the Van De Grift Animal Clinic. She said he was driving an SUV and thought he could make it, but didn't realize how deep the water had gotten.
"He was running late," she said. He doesn't even know who pulled him out.
Others said high ground kept them safe.
"We're counting ourselves very lucky that we're uphill enough," said Griffin Schultz, a resident of an apartment complex near one flooded area.
Vladimir Gorrin said he led his 57-year-old aunt through floodwaters surrounding her apartment near Gills Creek — one of the hardest-hit areas in Columbia.
Gorrin said his aunt, Wanda Laboy, waited several hours after calling 911, but authorities did not come. So family came to help.
"She's very distressed right now," said Gorrin, 38. "She lost everything."
More than 18 inches of rain, nearly all of it in 24 hours, fell in the area. It was so bad that hundreds of businesses, homes and apartments flooded.
Gorrin's aunt is heading with him to his house, where it has not flooded, but the drive home was tricky.
"I'm trying to find my way back home, and every road that we've taken is blocked or flooded," he said in a phone interview inside the car with his aunt.
In Florence, about 80 miles east of Columbia, Mary Gainey said she was told Sunday afternoon that she'd have to evacuate her home because of rising floodwaters from a nearby creek.
"I've been rushing around, making sure I have everything I need," said the 65-year-old Gainey.
She's going to stay at her daughter's house until the water recedes.
"This is the first time we've had to be evacuated," she said. "It's strange leaving everything behind."
She said she's worried, but thankful that she had some warning.
"I know God that will take care of us," she said.
Rawlings LaMotte, 38, a residential real estate broker, said an area in front of his gated subdivision in eastern Columbia was filled with up with 5 feet of water.
"It looks like a raging river," LaMotte said. "I've lived in Columbia my entire life, and we always laughed about the 100-year flood plain, but I guess this is what it is."
Earlier Sunday, LaMotte said he and a friend got into a small motorboat and ended up ferrying several people to safety, including a man who had been out of town and found roads to his home blocked.
"I told one of my friends earlier today, this put everything we've seen with Katrina into perspective," LaMotte said. "Until you've experienced something like this, you have no idea how bad it really is."
Charleston, South Carolina, Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. said he'd never seen flooding and rain as in the past few days, not even in his city after Hurricane Hugo years back. And he's been mayor for 40 years.
"The good news is that the torrential rain is over," Riley told The Associated Press after his historic city near the coast escaped the worst of the flooding that pummeled the state capital, Columbia.
Now he said he expects city offices in Charleston would be back open Monday morning: "You know the amount of rainfall that we have experienced is unprecedented. I feel very fortunate that we were able to get through this as well as we have."
He's now hoping his city, at least, can quickly put the ordeal behind.
"I think the community will soon be back to normal. One of these days, perhaps not today and perhaps not tomorrow, we'll have a nice sunny day."
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Bruce Smith in Charleston, South Carolina; Mitch Weiss in Greenville, South Carolina; Jonathan Drew in Durham, North Carolina; Jeffrey Collins, Seanna Adcox and Susanne Schafer in Columbia and Meg Kinnard in Blythewood, South Carolina.