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Receding SC floodwaters lead to homecoming heartbreak

Posted at 10:54 AM, Oct 08, 2015

SUMMERTON, S.C. (AP) — The pungent stench of mildew greeted Asiah Lewis when she came home to her apartment, her footsteps making squishing sounds on the carpet as she picked through soggy clothes piled on a bed and a lifted a moldy shoe from the floor.

Three days after Lewis, her four children and her mother fled the Meadowfield Apartments in chest-deep floodwaters, she returned Wednesday only to realize that — for now, at least — her family is homeless.

"I've got some important documents in the closet I need," said Lewis, 28, who grew up in the same three-bedroom apartment in which she had been raising her own children in Summerton, a tiny town 30 miles south of Sumter. "Pictures on the walls we're going to try to get. Other than that, it's a loss. Now I'm basically going to have to start over with four kids."

Record rainfall in South Carolina last weekend sent floodwaters gushing through Lewis' door and seeping through the walls of her apartment before dawn Sunday, when she awoke to firefighters knocking at her door telling her to leave. On Wednesday, Lewis was among 205 people still sleeping on cots at a high school gym serving as a Red Cross shelter. About half of those were her neighbors from Meadowfield.

As floodwaters recede across the state, residents are coming home to the heartbreaking reality of just how much they have lost.

Running a generator borrowed from a friend to pump out murky water still standing in his basement on Thursday, Walt Oliver pulled waterlogged belongings out of his house after it was flooded with 6 feet of water from nearby Gills Creek. Like some in his Columbia neighborhood, Oliver doesn't have flood insurance.

Oliver woke up Sunday morning to his cat running around the house. As he swung his legs onto the floor, he hit a puddle. Minutes later, he was dashing out of the house, carrying his cat over his head, with the water up to his chest and rising.

"You prepare yourself mentally for a great loss, but once you start plowing through things ... basically you see the contents of a life irretrievably ruined," Oliver said. "The long and short of it is, my friends and I, people on the block, we're all safe and I'm happy the house is salvageable. Material goods can be replaced, maybe, but the memories of course, cannot."

It could take until the weekend for the threat of flooding to ease. People in four coastal counties were warned Thursday that there may be new evacuations near two rising rivers, the Waccamaw and Edisto.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said there could be a potential billion-dollar cleanup bill and the University of South Carolina moved its home football game against LSU some 700 miles away to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

In another image of the storm's otherworldly toll, state officials said caskets have popped out of the ground in 11 instances in six counties.

South Carolina's top agriculture official said he estimates the state may have lost more than $300 million crop losses in recent flooding. Commissioner Hugh Weathers said he flew over flooded areas several times this week and his initial estimate is conservative.

At least 19 people in South Carolina and North Carolina have died in the storm.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said at least 16 counties had been declared disaster areas.

Residents of Summerville, northwest of Charleston, are wondering how long it will be before their lives return to normal. Dorchester Road, a main thoroughfare, remained impassable Wednesday in some spots. Amanda Perez and other residents used canoes and stand up paddle boards to assess the damage to their homes.

My house "is smelly. And, it's wet. And, even though it's showing some improvement today, I know I've lost at least two cars," Perez said. "How am I going to fix this? How am I going to get my kids to school? My cars are under water."