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Coastal Heritage - Winter 2019
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Designing for Water: Strategies to Mitigate Flood Impacts
VOLUME 31, NUMBER 4, WINTER 2019               

Retreating: The Last Resort

By Joey Holleman

The most foolproof way to avoid flood damage is to retreat from the water, to give up on a location and move to higher ground. Attached to both home and place, few people opt to move inland or away from rivers.

The town of Newtok, Alaska, has appealed for federal funding to move its residents inland, and the Native American tribe living on Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana is in the process of making a move to less flood-prone land.

In South Carolina, one candidate for retreat from flooding is the community of Nichols on the Lumber River in Marion County. The town of about 400 people suffered minor flooding for decades. Despite that history, nobody expected what has happened in the past three years.

SMALL-TOWN DILEMMA. The rainswollen Lumber River has inundated much of Nichols, South Carolina, twice in the past three years, prompting concerns about the future of the small town. PHOTO/TECH. SGT. JORGE INTRIAGO/U.S. AIR NATIONAL GUARD

Record-shattering rainfall throughout the region during Hurricane Matthew in 2016 swelled the river, and the town’s small commercial district was under water for seven days. Just when the town was getting back on its feet, Hurricane Florence’s rains swamped it for another five days in 2018. Nearly every structure and certainly every person in town has been impacted, says Sandee Rogers, town administrator.

After the 2016 flooding, the Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded the town $1.5 million through its Hazard Mitigation Grant Program to study the region’s hydrology and better determine causes and potential solutions to flooding.

Hydrologists were preparing to begin the study when Florence hit.

“We think something has happened that’s changed the water flow up the river,” Rogers says. “The study will help determine the future of Nichols.”

Many homes damaged by Hurricane Matthew had been repaired using private donations. None were raised substantially, Rogers says, because no previous flood had been as bad as Matthew. Many were flooded again by Florence. To qualify now for flood insurance payouts or federal assistance, most property owners will have to raise houses 4 to 5 feet, requiring expensive pilings they can’t afford.

If the study finds no new underlying flood causes that have engineering remedies, “we’ll have to regroup and face things we don’t want to face,” Rogers says.

Last updated: 3/4/2019 11:47:05 AM


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