Carolina flood death toll rises to 17, many rivers still rising

The Carolinas saw sunshine Tuesday after days of inundation, but it could take weeks to recover from being pummeled by a historic rainstorm that caused widespread flooding and 17 deaths.

Tuesday was the first dry day since Sept. 24 in South Carolina's state capital, Columbia, where a midnight-to-6 a.m. curfew was in effect. But officials warned that new evacuations could come as the huge mass of water flows toward the sea, threatening dams and displacing residents along the way.

 Carolina flood death toll rises to 17, many rivers still rising

Latest from the Carolinas/ AP

Of particular concern was the Lowcountry, where the Santee, Edisto and other rivers make their way to the sea. Gov. Nikki Haley warned that several rivers were rising and had yet to reach their peaks.

"God smiled on South Carolina because the sun is out. That is a good sign, but ... we still have to be cautious," Haley said Tuesday after taking an aerial tour. "What I saw was disturbing."

At least 15 weather-related deaths in South Carolina and two in North Carolina were blamed on the vast rainstorm. Six people drowned in their cars in Columbia, and several died after driving around safety barriers onto flooded roads.

Flooding is a concern for any urban area, where concrete covers soil that would otherwise act as a sponge in heavy rain. But the multitude of waterways in Columbia — where the Broad and Saluda rivers come together to form the Congaree — made the city a prime target.

Georgetown, one of America's oldest cities, sits on the coast at the confluence of four rivers. The historic downtown flooded over the weekend, and its ordeal wasn't over yet.

In Effingham, east of Columbia, the Lynches River was at nearly 20 feet (six meters) on Tuesday — five feet (1.5 meters) above flood stage.

Water distribution was a challenge. In the region around Columbia, as many as 40,000 homes lacked drinking water, and Mayor Steve Benjamin said 375,000 water customers will likely have to boil their water before drinking or cooking for "quite some time."

The power grid was returning to normal after nearly 30,000 customers lost electricity. Roads and bridges were taking longer to restore: Some 200 engineers were inspecting about 470 spots that remained closed Tuesday, including a 75-mile (120-kilometer) stretch of Interstate 95 that connects the southeastern U.S. to the northeast.

Much-feared Hurricane Joaquin missed the U.S. East Coast, but fueled what experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called a "fire hose" of tropical moisture that aimed directly at the state.

Authorities have made hundreds of water rescues since then, lifting people and animals to safety. About 800 people were in two-dozen shelters, but the governor expects that number to rise.

AP

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Updated Date: Oct 07, 2015 04:50:02 IST