What's It Like In Columbia? South Carolina's 1,000-Year Flood

I live in Forest Acres, the epicenter of what newsmen are now calling “The Thousand Year Flood.” Over a two-day period, more than 15 inches of rain, 6 trillion gallons of water, poured into our city, causing rivers, creeks, lakes, and ponds to overflow, dams to break, and roads and bridges to collapse. Rushing water swept away cars, boats, businesses, houses, and, most tragically, people. 

South Carolina has suffered losses totaling in the billions, and parts of our infrastructure are crippled. Some residents are completely without water, and the rest of us are under a Boil Water Advisory for the foreseeable future. 

But before I continue painting the picture of Forest Acres, let me gratefully acknowledge that my family and my home were spared. 

Now look at Forest Acres through my windshield:

As I drive to work, every major route out of my neighborhood save one is closed. Bridges have collapsed. Roads have washed away. Dangerous water still covers some roadways, and rushing streams and rivers make passage hazardous. Barricades block almost every major intersection. Five railroad employees crossed one of the barricades two nights ago and plunged into raging water when the road disappeared. Three men swam to safety. Two men drowned. 

I drive over a bridge that has miraculously withstood the storm. The water rushes beneath me carrying a lampshade, a cooler, and someone’s kitchen chair. Every year South Carolina has a 43-mile yard sale where sellers from all over the state set their wares along the sides of the road. As I drive down Kilbourne Road, it looks like the yard sale has come to Columbia. The entire contents of people’s homes are piled in the street. There are no smiling sellers offering bargains, however. Instead there are friends and neighbors with masks on their faces depositing armloads of possessions in soggy, molding heaps. Their masks protect their lungs but cannot hide their tears. 

A friend’s home three neighborhoods over was spared—an island in an underwater cul de sac. He and others manned powerboats to rescue their neighbors—the special needs women whose group home had always been a haven, an elderly woman clasping photos of her grandchildren, and the young lawyer and his 14-year-old son. But not their dog-the floodwaters rose too quickly. 

Five thousand national guardsmen are flooding the state. A Samaritan’s Purse rescue trailer sits in the parking lot of a church. Community training for flood remediation begins tomorrow as the churchs' gyms fill with donated water, diapers, and other necessities. 

Military police in their olive drab sit at strategic intersections, and Red Cross Disaster Team trucks rumble past giant dump trucks scooping piles of waterlogged debris from the sidewalks. Helicopters circle overhead, dropping one-ton sandbags in strategic spots near fragile dams still threatening to burst. Friends who shared meals around the table hug in yards where their homes once stood. 

There are stories of profound loss—an elderly friend whose wife suffers from Alzheimer’s surveys the basement pond where high school memorabilia, baby albums, and love letters float like lily pads. “We’re blessed,” he says. “She doesn’t even know they’re gone.” 

There are also stories of profound rescues—an 87-year-old man and his dog pulled from a car by a family who refused to let them drown. A grandmother, on her way to church, whose car is swept from the road and into another church’s parking lot. Nine-eleven didn’t answer so she called her grandson. Wrenching the door open, he freed her from the car and watched in horror as the swiftly moving water carried it away. They waited for rescuers, holding on to a bright red cross on the church property. 

"Where my car stopped was right behind a huge red cross,” Clara Gantt told WISTV. “I was literally, after I got out of the car, holding on the cross. I was clinging to the cross.” 

And there are stories of profound hope. A community rallying around its own. Strangers showing up on damp doorsteps to lend a hand. Collection points overflowing with donations. Prayers and financial contributions from around the world. 

Nineteen souls have lost their lives in the floods, and we mourn their passing. Hundreds of thousands of souls have been spared, and we are grateful. 

“But now, this is what the LORD says--: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you’” (Isaiah 43:1). 

And yes, this week the sun came out again. 

As Tuesday dawned bright and clear, meteorologist Tim Miller expressed what was on everybody’s heart: “Wow,” he said, in a voice thick with emotion, “well how about that--sunshine. That's amazing.” 

Washington Irving captured what the citizens of South Carolina know: 

"There is a sacredness in tears. They are not a mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love."

If you’d like to help with South Carolina’s relief efforts in the wake of the Thousand Year floods, please consider donating to the following agencies who are providing help and resources:

Samaritan’s Purse

Red Cross Disaster Relief

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  1. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this moving account of the situation in Forest Acres, SC. Most of us cannot imagine what it is like to survive something like this. We try but it just won't come. You have painted such a beautiful word picture for us. It lets me know that even in the wake of this disaster God is in the center. I see great faith and courage. I also see the compassion of many people as they are pulling together to help one another. I'm praying that the flooded areas of South Carolina not only survive, but thrive. God bless.

    1. Amen and amen, Shaneeka. Well said and true. Blessings to you.

  2. What a heart wrentching and graphic view of what has just happened in North Carolina. Our prayers and tears are with you. You remind us that God is still with us in tragedy, something easily forgotten.

    1. Thank you, Carol. Prayers are the mightiest gift of all.

  3. Prayers for you and all the people in your area. I am glad that you and your family are safe. May the rebuilding strengthen the area and its people.

    1. Thank you, Linda, for your kind thoughts and prayers. The people of South Carolina are strong and faith-filled. And God is at work.

  4. Wow! Thanks for these details. We don't get TV here so the disaster wasn't in front of us like it would be if we were getting news reports. I'm so glad that you and your family are safe. Having lived in Columbia, it all seems very real. May God use this tragedy for all sorts of good purposes.

    1. That's my prayer, too, Gail. He's already being glorified in how people are turning out to help, not take advantage of those who have suffered loss. No rioting in the streets, looting, or ignoring law enforcement. I grow more and more proud of my adopted state every day.

  5. Thank you for writing this post. For those of us who don't live in SC, it's easy to forget how much floods affect people's lives. We went through the recent one in North Florida a few years ago, and it was terrifying. It's amazing how much damage a little bit of rain (actually, a whole bunch!) can do.

    1. You're right, Nikki. I drove through one of the hardest-hit areas today and saw a home that had an addition--before the rain began. The entire addition just washed away . . . the power of moving water is incredible.