CHARLESTON, S.C./RALEIGH, N.C. (Reuters) – Thousands of people in and around the city of Georgetown, South Carolina, were bracing on Monday for severe flooding from two rain-gorged rivers as a result of the long-departed Hurricane Florence, and officials were urging residents to evacuate.
Floodwaters of 5 to 10 feet (1.5 to 3 m) are expected to inundate Georgetown and surrounding communities this week as the Pee Dee and Waccamaw rivers overrun their banks along the low-lying tidal flats where they converge at Winyah Bay, which flows into the Atlantic.
Emergency management officials began sending recorded telephone messages to residents in harm’s way over the weekend, and will probably start going door-to-door in the next few days, Georgetown County spokeswoman Jackie Broach-Akers said.
County officials on Monday said they planned to hold a news conference at 3 p.m. (1900 GMT) to update residents on the status of the rivers and possible evacuation plans.
The potential flood zone encompasses some 3,500 homes in Georgetown and the coastal resort community of Pawleys Island, Broach-Akers told Reuters.
She said the estimated 6,000 to 8,000 people who live in the area are being “strongly urged” to leave on their own, although no mandatory evacuation has been ordered.
The county opened emergency shelters at 7 a.m. on Monday, and hotels outside the flood zone in nearby Myrtle Beach are offering discounts for evacuees. Public schools will be closed until further notice, Broach-Akers said.
First responders from around the state were assisting in relief efforts. State transportation crews were working to erect temporary dams on either side of U.S. Highway 17, the main coastal route through the area, and National Guard engineers were installing a floating bridge at Georgetown in case the highway is washed out at the river.
“The water is still rising there,” said Bob Oravec, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.
STRANDED DEAD FISH
Nine days after Florence came ashore, the National Weather Service said flooding would likely persist in coastal parts of the Carolinas for days as the high-water crest of numerous rivers keeps moving downstream toward the ocean.
“All that water is going to take a good while to recede,” Oravec said. “Damage can still be done.”
The storm dumped 30 to 40 inches (75 to 100 cm) of rain on Wilmington, North Carolina, alone after making landfall nearby on Sept. 14. Heavy flooding left a commercial section of downtown Wilmington under at least a foot of water on Sunday.
Flooding in Wilmington was expected to peak on Monday along the city’s Water Street riverfront, where many businesses had stacked sandbags in advance, city spokesman Dylan Lee said.
Receding flood waters left hundreds of dead fish stranded on a highway near Wallace, about 35 miles from the nearest beach, according to the Penderlea Fire Department, which posted video of firefighters hosing the fish off Interstate 40.
About 5,000 people across North Carolina were rescued by boat or helicopter after the storm made landfall, twice as many as in Hurricane Matthew two years ago, according to state officials.
Reporting by Harriet McLeod in Charleston, S.Carolina and Gene Cherry in Raleigh, N.Carolina; additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Gina Cherelus in New York; editing by Alison Williams and Leslie Adler