Area of Columbia Historic Flooding Response

Disasters come in many forms and occur from a variety of situations. Disasters can be classified as natural or man-made and contain aspects of both (Nies & McEwen, 2019). In October of 2015 my area of Columbia SC was struck with a historic flooding event that broke many records for 1 day 2 day and 3-day rainfall totals since recording began. This event was caused by a cold front which became stationary near the coast which combined with an area of low pressure and tropical moisture (Weather.gov, 2015). This created on onshore flow of moisture which remained in place for several days. Rain totals in my area were over 12 inches in a 48-hour period with 20+ inches locally in the Charleston area. At times the rainfall fell at a rate of over 2 inches per hour. To compound the problem, the area had been subject to heavy rainfall recently so there was little watershed available to absorb the deluge. The impact to my community was widespread. The Columbia metropolitan area obtains much of it’s power needs from the Lake Murray hydro-electric dam which was already at full stage from recent rainfall. This led to the emergency release gates being utilized for the first time since the reservoir’s completion in the 1920’s. This caused already high river levels in the Columbia area to overflow and burst many levies and dam’s below Lake Murray which led to widespread historic flooding of the Columbia area. Locally in the town of Lexington many ponds and earthen dams were eroded away which caused a cascade flood because most bodies of water are supplied by the outflow of other dam’s upstream. This meant that for each breach of a dam there were several other breaches downstream from the compounding of flooding. This resulted in 10 deaths, the closure of 550 roads and bridges, 40,000 people without water, and 26,000 people without power (USAtoday.com). The level 1 trauma center in Columbia was impacted by this event, leading to the hospital losing access to fresh water for several days and running on backup generators during the event. Firsthand accounts from fellow nurses who worked during the outage described having to bring in bottled water for patient intake, bathing and toileting due to flooding and no municipal water pressure in the building. This was a historic event never before seen in my area before which caught all emergency management resources off guard. Many things changed after this event to better prepare the area if this setup were to ever take place again. The first step to making the appropriate changes was to update the flood maps from flood data taken during the event. The USGS compiled flood data taken from the storm and created 20 new maps indicating new flood concerns. (“USGS.gov,” 2016). The trauma center which was affected by the flood waters instituted a potable water plan to prevent the need for bottled water to be utilized for patient care in the event of a loss in municipal water pressure. Many area dams were examined by the Army Corps of Engineers and repairs were made where necessary but many dams and levies remain open in order to prevent a future cascade of flooding caused by the rapid failure of so many structures. There has also been a noticeable increase in community education on the dangers of flood waters and the phrase “turn around, don’t drown” is now used to describe the action to be taken when approaching a flooded road. Low head dam’s now have signage indicating the dangers of flood situations and drowning risk associated with these types of structures. Hopefully these changes will never need to be tested again but if another high rainfall event were to take place Columbia will be better prepared for it.

Best regards,

Donnie Bloodworth

References

New maps of 2015 floods help SC prepare for the future. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.usgs.gov/news/new-maps-2015-floods-hel…

Nies, M. A., & McEwen, M. (2019). Community/public health nursing (7th ed.). St Louis, MI: Elsevier.

October 1st-5th historic rainfall and flooding. (2015). Retrieved from https://www.weather.gov/cae/HistoricFloodingOct201…

South Carolina floods: death toll rises to 10 in unrelenting storm. (2015). Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/10…

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