EFFINGHAM, S.C. – Until 2015, Joyce Thompson said, she had never experienced extreme flooding in her neighborhood. She has lived on Roundtree Road in Effingham for about 16 years now. Part of the road runs parallel to Lynches River.
The flood in 2015 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016 required many people living along Lynches River to evacuate. Several people were out of their homes for many weeks due to the extensive damage left behind.
And now, the aftermath of Hurricane Florence is expected to cause Lynches River to rise and flood once again.
“Up until 2015, we never had anything like this before; 2015 just really hit us hard,” Thompson said. “Since then, we got hit with Matthew in ’16. And we did good in ’17 and now here we are with this in ’18. And I’m scared this is going to be as bad as the flood was in ’15.”
Levi James, Florence County Emergency Management Division spokesman, said through Tuesday that Lynches River is forecast to reach flood stage by Saturday and continue to rise. James said the forecast currently shows a rise near levels reached during Hurricane Matthew, which was 18.7 feet.
Thompson said her family had to evacuate during the flood in 2015 because flood waters got up to about 20 feet, she believes.
“I was out of my house for 11 days once we evacuated out of there,” Thompson said. “I lived in a camper in my family’s back yard for 11 days until we could get back in. And I kayaked in each day just to check on stuff.”
Thompson said her house is on stilts, so she was one of the luckier ones as far as damage is concerned. About three-quarters of her garage was under water, but her living quarters did not flood in 2015. About a quarter of a mile down from Thompson is where her brother lives. His house is not on stilts, so about two feet of water flooded his residence.
Since Thursday, Thompson said, she has been evacuated from her home on Roundtree Road. She said she has cleared everything off her dock and decks. A lot of her belongings are now housed in her garage because even if it floods, she said, she knows it won’t float away.
Several people who live on Roundtree Road are moving their belongings this week before the river reaches flood stage.
“We do have a little time to prepare for this,” Thompson said. “But we didn’t know it was going to get this high.”
James said residents who live in the areas in and around Lynches River should make plans now to evacuate as river levels rise.
“Lynches River flood stage is 14 feet,” James said. “At 15.5 feet floodwaters on Lynches River will affect portions of North Old Georgetown, Roundtree and Ben Gause Roads near Effingham and New Hope. The roads will be impassable in places. Locations downstream such as Half Moon Landing, and the Neck should expect flood waters later in the week."
Lynches River County Park reopened Tuesday after rangers spent Monday cleaning up debris left by several days of wind and rain from Hurricane Florence last week.
During Hurricane Matthew in 2016 the nature center at the park stayed high and dry but lost power. Park workers teamed up to evacuate the animals that live in the nature center to more suitable quarters where they had electricity and clean water.
The Lynches River is expected to remain below flood stage for most of the week before it starts to rise quickly early Saturday morning on its way to major flood stage early Sunday morning at 19 feet. At that level "extensive flooding will occur" and water will likely back up into Sumter County.
The record, set during Hurricane Matthew, is just over 21 feet.
Jennifer Majors, Lynches River County Park superintendent, said 18 feet worth of flood waters will not affect the buildings at the park, but it will cover much of the trails and come up high underneath the environmental discovery center.
“Some of our trails, honestly, they’re still wet from that flood (in 2015), some of our areas because the water just really didn’t have anywhere to go. It got into the lower areas because the water got up so high.”
Based on experience, Majors said, there is not a lot the staff can do to prepare the park for flooding. If there happens to be a mandatory evacuation this week and once the flooding recedes, Majors said, the Lynches River County Park staff will take time to make sure everything is safe before reopening the park.
“We will wait on county officials and get those folks to let us know really what they’re doing as far as the mandatory evacuation,” Majors said. “There’s two of us that actually live here on the property. We’re definitely going to keep an eye on it because we live here.”
If flooding occurs, Majors said, people should follow all guidelines set in place and not come to the park “just to look at the things” if it is not safe.
As of Tuesday evening Lynches River was at 9.44 feet, according to a media advisory from James, and is expected to reach 19 feet in Effingham by Sunday morning. It could crest higher Sunday night.
The first of the Lynches River flood waters should reach the Cartersville area by Thursday and Sardis by Friday, James said.