With rescuers overwhelmed by South Carolina storm, neighbors lend a hand

Historic flooding in South Carolina forced hundreds of weekend rescues, many done by residents helping each other.

Janet Blackmon Morgan/The Sun News/AP
People watch as the flood inches toward their door outside of Conway, S.C., Sunday. Hundreds were rescued from fast-moving floodwaters Sunday in South Carolina as days of driving rain hit a dangerous crescendo that buckled buildings and roads, closed a major East Coast interstate route and threatened the drinking water supply for the capital city.

A deluge of rain water trapped Brenda Van De Grift’s husband in his car in South Carolina while he was driving to work at an animal clinic on Sunday morning. He thought he could make it in his SUV, she said, but the water had grown too deep.

A good samaritan pulled him out of the flooded water, she said. He doesn't even know who it was.

Vladimir Gorrin also faced a treacherous journey as he drove to pick up his aunt Wanda Laboy from her flooded home. She had waited several hours for emergency workers, but the overwhelmed authorities had not come.

Mr. Gorrin said he led his aunt through floodwaters surrounding her apartment near Gills Creek – one of the hardest-hit areas in Columbia – and then drove her through precarious conditions to his house, which was not flooded.

"She's very distressed right now," Gorrin told the Associated Press. "She lost everything."

Columbia, the state’s capital, was the hardest hit during a weekend of unprecedented rain and deluge, soaked by more than 20 inches of rain that has flooded hundreds of businesses, homes, and apartments.

Conditions in South Carolina, where the torrential rainstorm landed late last week, have been so severe, President Obama on Saturday declared an emergency, promising federal aid to help deal with the storm fallout in the state.

"The flooding is unprecedented and historical," Marshall Shepherd, a meteorologist and director of the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia, told the Associated Press in an email.

At least seven weather-related deaths have been linked to the rainstorm, which was caused by a weather phenomenon called “Rex block,” a mix of atmospheric pressure that has formed an unrelenting block of severe weather above South Carolina.

The flooding forced hundreds of weekend rescues, many done by neighbors helping each other.

Rawlings LaMotte, a residential real estate broker, said that an area in front of his gated subdivision in eastern Columbia was filled with 5 feet of water.

"It looks like a raging river," Mr. LaMotte told AP. "I've lived in Columbia my entire life, and we always laughed about the 100-year floodplain, but I guess this is what it is."

Early on Sunday, LaMotte and a friend ferried several people to safety in a motor boat, including a man who had been out of town and found roads to his home had been 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."

After a calamitous weekend, reality is setting in Monday as people wait for the rains to ease. Some reports say the sun could appear Tuesday, though a long road to recovery lies ahead.

"It's going to be weeks or months before all of the roads are assessed," state Adjutant General Bob Livingston Jr. said, according to AP.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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