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South Carolina Residents Preparing For High Floodwaters From Hurricane Florence


The final stop for Hurricane Florence may be the small town of Georgetown, S.C. Tucked between Myrtle Beach and Charleston, several swollen rivers will converge in the heart of the community's historic district in the next few days. Forecasters had been calling for unprecedented flooding. Now, the city might get a reprieve. South Carolina Public Radio's Victoria Hansen reports.

VICTORIA HANSEN, BYLINE: The serenity of this sleepy city and those who call it home has been shaken by the warnings about floodwaters on the way.

And as we speak, it seems like help is moving in by helicopter.

WILMA SHELLEY: Yeah, kind of looks like a war zone around here.

HANSEN: Wilma Shelley has lived in Georgetown for 40 years. She's never seen people pack and flee in such a flurry as she has lately along the riverfront.

SHELLEY: People are preparing by moving their things and sandbagging and sometimes leaving.

HANSEN: Leaving - that's what Diarendia Smalls and her granddaughters plan to do. They have never evacuated before.

DIARENDIA SMALLS: We're about three blocks from the river. It's best to leave to be safe because you don't know what's going to happen.

HANSEN: The city had anticipated floodwaters rising as high as 10 feet, but now they're being told to expect roughly half that. Still, authorities say now is not the time for people to let their guard down. The local hospital has moved patients to higher ground. Portable dams line a major coastal evacuation route, and the National Guard has been busy building a moveable floating bridge to ferry emergency supplies and personnel in case bridges around the city wash out.

ANDREA JOHNSON: Yes, ma'am. Everything was all right?

HANSEN: Downtown, Aunny's Country Kitchen is one of the few riverfront restaurants still open, and it is packed. Owner Andrea Johnson works the register.

JOHNSON: Six, seven - now, where are you from?

HANSEN: She's trying to keep the food and the cash flowing as long as she can.

JOHNSON: If I'm able to open my business, that's what I'm going to do.

HANSEN: But down the street, Harborside Restaurant Seafood and Italian is closed. Debra Woodworth is helping pack up.

DEBRA WOODWORTH: We've moved all the refrigeration out. We've got all our furniture, tables and chairs out. We've got food out. I've done the best that we can.

HANSEN: What she can't pack up are her emotions.

WOODWORTH: Absolutely - holding back the tears.

HANSEN: At the community's waterside fountain, Mayor Brendon Barber is assuring people the city is ready for whatever comes their way. But the water itself, where and how it will flow and what it might contain after ravaging hundreds of miles, those are nagging questions.

BRENDON BARBER: Overall, we're more concerned about the waste water pump stations because the majority of them are located in low-lying areas.

HANSEN: The deputy public information officer for Georgetown County government, Randy Akers, agrees.

RANDY AKERS: You don't know what's in that water - could be contaminated, could have some oil, could have some human waste in it, dead animals, things like that. You could become very sick from just being in contact with that water.

HANSEN: So what's a city to do when the unknown is about to hit home?

SHELLEY: Our mayor called us all together to pray together.

HANSEN: Wilma Shelley says dozens in the community recently gathered, heads bowed, at the riverfront expecting the worst but praying for anything less. For NPR News, I'm Victoria Hansen in Georgetown.

(SOUNDBITE OF THOM SONNY GREEN'S "VIENNA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Victoria Hansen is our Lowcountry connection covering the Charleston community, a city she knows well. She grew up in newspaper newsrooms and has worked as a broadcast journalist for more than 20 years. Her first reporting job brought her to Charleston where she covered local and national stories like the Susan Smith murder trial and the arrival of the Citadel’s first female cadet.
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