East Coast Rainstorm

This satellite image taken Friday at 12:45 p.m. EDT, and released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows Hurricane Joaquin, bottom center, pounding the Bahamas and a deepening low pressure system on the U.S. east coast. Millions along the east coast breathed a little easier Friday after forecasters said Hurricane Joaquin would probably veer out to sea instead of joining up with a drenching rainstorm that is bringing severe flooding to parts of the Atlantic Seaboard. 

AP

A light mist fell over the Orangeburg area Friday afternoon but weather and emergency officials say it was just the calm before the storm.

"I foresee extensive flooding in areas we have not seen it in the past," Orangeburg County Emergency Services Director Billy Staley said.

"We want to encourage everybody: Please don't drive through flooded roadways and don't get into flooded areas,” he said.

South Carolina is under a flash flood watch until 8 a.m. Monday. A flash flood watch means that conditions may develop that lead to flash flooding.

Heavy rain is forecast through Sunday night with the heaviest being overnight Saturday, according to the National Weather Service in Columbia.

Three-day rain totals of 6 inches to 9 inches are possible, with local amounts in excess of 12 inches.

The National Weather Service says the flash flooding could be life-threatening.

South Carolina is under a State of Emergency for the potential flooding and is operating in an Operating Condition Level 3, which means a disaster or emergency situation is likely.

The rainfall is associated with a slow-moving, upper-level low and associated surface trough over the state. High moisture content will be associated with this system because of moisture from Hurricane Joaquin.

Hurricane Joaquin, a category 4 storm, is expected to stay offshore.

"Once it starts raining it is going to rain," Staley said. It’s unique for not only Orangeburg but the entire state.

"Right now is the time to respond or to prepare for the event. We don't want to make movements while the flooding is going on,” he said.

Officials recommend those in low-lying areas move to higher ground if possible before the storm strikes.

Staley said there are no immediate plans to open up any shelters, though a decision will be made if any evacuations are needed.

Areas of chief concern include the Holly Hill and Bowman areas, as well as some areas near the Edisto River. These are all areas the OCES office will be watching closely.

Other areas typically dealing with flooding are at the bypass near Walmart Neighborhood Market as well as the Chestnut Street area under the railroad trellis. Old Edisto Drive past Henry's Travel Plaza, Chicquita Drive and Livingston Landing are also areas prone to flooding.

NWS Meteorologist Mike Proud said officials are confident the state will get a lot of rain.

"Our concerns with this whole event ... through Monday is that we are going to see some winds 15 miles per hour to 20 miles per hour over the weekend," Proud said. "This will combine with soils nearly saturated with recent rains. The ground has not had time to dry. Weakened trees and branches will come down."

Proud warns: "Stay off the roads and stay out of flooded areas.

“We are looking at flooding at major rivers. We are expecting pretty much everything to go over flood stage. It will run high and it will run high for quite some time."

The Edisto River's level Friday morning was 4.91 feet. Flood stage is at 8 feet. The NWS is forecasting the river to reach 9.6 feet by Wednesday, resulting in moderate flooding.

The last time the river crested at 9.6 feet was in April 1961.

The record crest for the river is 14.7 feet, reached in September 1928.

Orangeburg City Administrator John Yow said the city is aware of flood-prone areas such as Boulevard Street, Seaboard Avenue, Edisto Memorial Gardens near the Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce and the Prince of Orange Mall.

"Our police officers know to monitor these areas," Yow said. "We have signs prepared and barricades ready to close roads down."

Yow said the city also has equipment to rescue stranded motorists and will keep the public informed about incidents online.

"We have all crews on standby," he said.

S.C. Department of Transportation crews were gathering and preparing debris-clearing equipment, including heavy equipment, chainsaws and other items used to remove tree limbs and debris from roadways and bridges. Employees also readied equipment such as signs and barricades to be put in place on roads and bridges that could become washed out.

SCDOT crews also spent Thursday inspecting problem areas prone to flooding.

"We are cleaning out the culverts and pipes," SCDOT District 7 Maintenance Engineer David Brandyburg said.

During the weekend, if the public sees water standing on roads or problems with roads or bridges, SCDOT asks that they contact local law enforcement agencies or the S.C. Highway Patrol.

Those agencies are first responders and will contact SCDOT crews as needed.

Motorists should not drive through and pedestrians should not walk through standing water. Officials encourage people to “turn around and don't drown.”

Officials also warn pedestrians to stay away from storm drains.

Orangeburg County Public Works Director Sinkler Boone said crews have been cleaning out drainage systems and flood-prone areas.

"We are in a wait-and-see mode right now," he said late Friday morning.

Boone said he is fairly optimistic that the county's system will be able to handle the rain.

"It depends on how much rain we will get," he said.

The rain is forecast to fall over a three-day period, rather than during a short period of time like the slow-moving thunderstorm last year which dropped about 8 inches on the city.

"I think we will be able to handle that,” he said.

Calhoun County

Calhoun County Emergency Services Director Bill Minikiewicz said while official forecasts are calling for between 5 to 12 inches of rain, some forecasters are saying up to about 16 inches of rain are possible in isolated cases.

He said uprooted trees falling on power lines is of significant concern as well as flooding along the Congaree River and industrial interests.

Minikiewicz said the department has talked with all county fire departments and has activated its all-terrain vehicles for use on dirt and impassable roads. Public buildings such as the county courthouse can often experience flooding during heavy rain. Sandbags will be placed at the courthouse to prevent water from coming in.

Minikiewicz said the town of Cameron can also be a difficult spot for flooding.

Bamberg County

Bamberg County Emergency Services Director Sharon Hammond said the department is monitoring and preparing for the storm.

"We are preparing some of our low-lying essential buildings with sandbags," Hammond said.

Hammond expressed concerns about the typical flood-prone areas in Bamberg County which include U.S. 301 and U.S. 78 between Bamberg and Denmark, Butler Street in Denmark and U.S. 321 on the outskirts of town.

"We are going to get the bulk of rain," Hammond said, noting this coupled with winds forecast of 20 miles per hour could mean a bad combination.

"Trees can come down on power lines and then we will have no power," she said. "We could have devastation."

Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD

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Gene Zaleski is a reporter/staff writer with The Times and Democrat.

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