‘Like I’m having a nightmare.’ Tiny SC town again faces disaster as rivers surge
The boat glided over neighborhood streets and front yards, past submerged street signs and a floating refrigerator and, finally, to Randy Bryant’s flooded-out home on Fork Retch Court.
“I feel like I’m having a nightmare,” the 71-yearold retiree said, surveying the damage wrought by the rising Little Pee Dee River.
It’s a recurring one. Bryant and his riverside neighbors near Nichols were in these same boats two years ago, astonished at flooding unlike any they ever had seen. Now, days after Hurricane Florence crawled over South Car- olina’s Pee Dee region, the water again has submerged Nichols — a foot higher than it did after Hurricane Matthew in 2016 — and still was rising late Thursday.
“You see a lot of floods,” Bryant said. “But these two have topped them all.”
Across the Little Pee Dee, all of Nichols’ 150 or so families have evacuated, heeding warnings from local officials.
That includes the last six families who had pledged to stay put in the town, wedged between two rivers, the Lumber and the Little Pee Dee, that are swelling as trillions of gallons of water rush downstream from North Carolina.
“Everyone has gotten out,” Nichols Town clerk Sandee Rogers said. “Everyone heeded the advice. Thank the Lord, we are not putting our first responders in danger.”
In October 2016, flood waters from Hurricane Matthew left Nichols submerged for 10 days and shut down the town for weeks. Homes were condemned after the flood, and about 100 families decided it was time to leave for good.
Since then, about threefifths of the town’s 261 households and half of its 22 businesses had returned, only to evacuate again for Florence.
By Thursday, the flooding in Nichols was a foot higher than Matthew and still rising, a catastrophe that further will delay the poverty-stricken town’s plans for a revival.
“This is just unfathomable for this to happen twice in two years,” Rogers said.
About two miles southwest on Wednesday, Frank Oliver was motoring a boat around Fort Retch, where dark brown water from the Little Pee Dee had flushed as high as seven feet into many homes along Fork Retch Court by Wednesday.
Along the river, floating docks had broken loose and smashed into piers and porches. A bloated dog carcass floated on a piece of timber. Fivegallon buckets, a pink Swiffer mop and a tree house were carried into the tree line. The water reached high enough to soak the bottom of the Spanish moss clumps that hung from riverside trees.
“That’s my house,” Bryant said as his borrowed boat passed it. Water covered all but a foot of the door frame. “Gah, that looks terrible.”
Oliver and Bryant could count on one hand the Fork Retch families that didn’t need to conduct major renovations after Matthew. Some could afford to demolish and rebuild their homes. Others could pay to renovate and lift their houses up on stilts. A few left for good.
As they boated through the neighborhood, Oliver and Bryant could tell the story of every home.
One neighbor just had finished building his new house. “Now, it’s gone,” Bryant said.
Another neighbor, 79-year-old Robbie White, had spent two years rebuilding her home after Matthew. She was set to return later this month. But Wednesday, her home was filled again with flood water.
“It’s just a shame because everybody was just now getting their place back together, you know, and now they’re getting hit again,” Oliver said. “This is way worse than any of us thought it was going to be. Hundred-year flood every two years, I mean, come on.”
The Little Pee Dee River floods Wildlife Action center Sept. 19 in Nichols, S.C. The Fork Retch community has flooded twice in the past two years.