‘Like I’m hav­ing a night­mare.’ Tiny SC town again faces disas­ter as rivers surge

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Hurricane Florence - BY AVERY G. WILKS aw­[email protected]­tate.com Pub­lished on our web­site Sept. 19.

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.”

GAVIN MCIN­TYRE gm­cin­[email protected]­tate.com

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.

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