In October 2015, a historic storm and resulting floods inundated Richland County, devastating the lives of many residents, damaging or destroying thousands of homes and businesses, and impairing infrastructure.
The rare weather event set the community on a multi-year course to mitigate future flood risks and environmental impact, one the County continues today.
“We near the end of this five-year recovery process with an overwhelming sense of relief and accomplishment,” said Mike King, Richland County’s local disaster recovery manager.
The County endured catastrophic rainfall (more than 20 inches in the Gills Creek area of Columbia alone) along with rainfall rates that were off the charts, with several sites recording between 9 and 13 inches in one six-hour period.
“Such rainfall amounts in such a short amount of time were historic,” said Ken Aucoin, chief meteorologist for Richland County. “Few communities, if any, could withstand such a rain event.”
All of that rain posed a major challenge for the County’s Department of Public Works, which set up a 24-hour in-house command center to monitor the storm’s immediate aftermath.
“In the days and weeks after the flood, myself and other Public Works staff worked hard to identify damaged infrastructure, develop a recovery plan and keep the public informed,” said Synithia Williams, stormwater general manager.
In addition to 20 dams failing and 50 roads closing, about 270 roads in the County were damaged or needed repairs. The S.C. Army National Guard ultimately repaired 15 major roadways, while Public Works coordinated repairs on the others.
While the County has sought to improve emergency preparedness, stormwater drainage and more since the flood, a pair of efforts to improve community housing provide perhaps the most visible success stories.
Property Buyout Program
Through this initiative, funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, the County can acquire properties in a designated flood plain that were substantially damaged in the flood. Once acquired, the properties can be demolished and the land returned to a naturalized state to mitigate future flooding problems.
The County has acquired all 58 properties that qualified for the buyout program, many of those in the Gills Creek and Denny Terrace areas of Columbia, and demolished 54 of those, with the remaining four properties also scheduled for demolition.
As part of the voluntary program, participants who owned the property at the time of the flood received pre-disaster appraised value, while those who purchased the properties after the flood were offered current market value.
“We will never forget what our efforts truly represent – being able, in a small way, to help 58 of our friends and neighbors and their families recover from the total loss of their homes,” said King, who oversees the property buyout program.
In another boost for the community, the County replaced or repaired a number of homes damaged in the 2015 flood. Improvements have included 347 home repairs, mobile home unit replacements and complete home rebuilds.
- 76 homes were repaired, 15 homes were rebuilt and 56 mobile homes were replaced using Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR), which assists low- to moderate-income families who were living in owner-occupied homes during the flood. The County continues work on CDBG-DR projects.
- More than 200 homes were repaired using volunteer labor facilitated by the Midlands Flood Recovery Group, a cluster of volunteer organizations.
“The historic flood Richland County experienced five years ago is part of the collective memory of the community,” said Richland County Council Chair Paul Livingston. “We have taken a lot of actions since 2015 to recover, and I remain thankful that residents trusted the County to lead efforts to make the community stronger and more resilient in the face of the next weather emergency.”
A retrospective video detailing the impact of the flood and Richland County’s response is online. “Remembering the 2015 Flood: Five Years Later" features Livingston, District 8 Councilman Jim Manning and others. Find it on the County’s YouTube page: www.youtube.com/RichlandOnline.