It was four days filled with high stakes, tremendous anxiety, scary possibilities. The rain came and we watched it, the water rising in Bickley’s Pond until it crested the road across the dam that forms the entrance to our neighborhood. It’s a sight you don’t ever imagine seeing, the lake so high, the rain continuing to pour. Will the dam hold? we asked each other. Then after another deep breath, What will happen if it doesn’t?
They are moments I will never forget, a time in my life in which I felt so much anguish all I could do was stand eyes wide, hand over my mouth, my head shaking in disbelief.
It’s crazy to be in the midst of a natural disaster that unfolds around you, and doubly so one that goes about it so unpredictably. The forecast warned us of the possibility, yes. But the circumstances that had to come together to create nearly nonstop, 2-inches-an-hour rainfall for days? So remote you could hardly take it seriously. We watched for it all day Friday. Friday night. Saturday morning. By Saturday afternoon many of us were sighing a great breath of relief believing the dang thing would either never materialize or skirt right around us.
Around 8pm things changed. The misty stuff turned into a steady rain, then a serious downpour. When it was still going strong at midnight, then 2, then 4, then 6 am, many of us in the Midlands of South Carolina began to worry what Sunday morning’s light would bring.
By the time we turned on our televisions–those of us who still had power–there it was, the flooding, in a word, unbelievable. One of the first things I remember seeing was video showing a wild river raging across the lower end of Lexington’s Main Street. It was the exact spot where, just the morning before, we had parked Teresa’s car while taking a Saturday yoga class at Pink Lotus, in Lexington’s Old Mill.
The fabulous Nicole opened by offering Not much is happening but things are still a little crazy out there. Don’t worry if you find you are a little out of balance.
We all laughed softly.
Now, less than 24 hours later, parts of the building were being swept away.
It’s an interesting thing about Columbia, built as it is around so much water. Most notably there’s Lake Murray (with 500 miles of shoreline) along with our three grand rivers: the Saluda, the Broad and the Congaree. Yet disaster struck in so many regular parts of our city you just wouldn’t think of as prone to floods: main thoroughfares with tiny, accompanying streams; historic neighborhoods surrounding friendly lakes; apartment complexes in quiet, unassuming parts of town. The engineers and government leaders did a remarkable job keeping the major bodies of water in check–but still it unnerved us as we watched the disaster unfold in surprising, almost random, locations. Who would be next?
We escaped disaster here on Bickley’s Pond. The lake reached the top of the dam with water running three-quarters of the way across the road. Our yard sunk deeper and deeper, the fence at the edge of our yard completely submerged, our pretty Adironack chair deck fully under water. Then we watched as the spillway’s seven gigantic pipes began to do their jobs. The lake slowly receded. The rain was still pouring, but the water level was dropping.
It seemed a miracle.
I drove downtown today and got my first in-person glimpse at the impact of this 1000-year storm. A U.S. Army Chinook helicopter floated above the breached Columbia Canal placing 1-ton sandbags in the water to slow its flow. Members of the National Guard were all around, their uniforms reminding me what a serious situation we’re in. Everywhere I went were stories of survival, rooftop rescues, unimaginable loss.
This is a city stunned, yes. And on edge, still, as every news break brings with it new possibilities for disaster as the very real impact of such infrastructural damage comes to light. But there is also grand generosity as neighbors show up for neighbors, in ways large and small. A thousand times over it has happened in every corner of this city, just as it happened here on Bickley’s Pond early Sunday morning. It was raining, dark, and not yet 5:30 am when neighbors went door to door, calling, pounding, making sure all 24 houses knew:
The water is rising.