MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — It took Bill Felder and his wife years to buy a lot on the water. From 2006 to 2015, they lived in the Socastee house his wife helped design without incident.

“It was our dream house,” he said. 

Then the water started to rise. After living through two floods a year from 2015 onward, and dealing with working through insurance for repairs, the Felders moved to Charleston.

The house has been put up for sale twice, but has never sold. 

“We had a family look at it three times and then hesitate about threatening floods,” Felder said. 

Two days later, it was underneath water. 

Felder estimates the house has lost $200,000 in value. It’s been flooded in February and May, during times there haven’t been tropical storms or hurricanes. 

They now rent the home to tenants who have had to evacuate due to recent flooding.

Their situation is becoming more and more common in the area. There are 5,847 homes within Felder’s Socastee zip code that are at risk for flooding this year, according to Flood Factor, a tool developed by the First Street Foundation, a nonprofit organization with more than 80 researchers from 20 academic institutions. Within 30 years, it’s estimated that 7,055 homes in Felder’s area will be at risk. 

Flood Factor predicts that flooding will cost $16.3 million in the 29588 zip code this year. That cost is expected to rise to $20.3 million within 30 years, while the price of damage from minor floods is expected to increase by 2,294%.

Overall, the cost of flood damage in Myrtle Beach is expected to rise by 19%, with the cost of damage from minor floods increasing 668% during that time.

Rising waters

There are 400,000 people in South Carolina whose homes are at risk of being flooded, according to a 2019 report from the South Carolina Floodwater Commission.

The commission was created through an executive order from Gov. Henry McMaster in 2018, who stated there was a statewide need for a plan to mitigate the impacts of flooding. The report cites the 2015 historical flood, along with hurricanes Joaquin, Matthew, Irma and Florence, which collectively caused 37 deaths and destroyed 1,634 homes.

The report offered short and long-term recommendations, with an emphasis on limiting the impacts of flooding on coastal and riverside areas. 

South Carolina is seeing sea levels rise faster than the global average because of weather cycles and regional oceanic changes, according to the report. One potential tool, it said, may be taking advantage of existing geology.

“Nature and nature-based solutions are often underappreciated and underutilized tools for flood mitigation,” the report reads.

Trees, for example, can take in thousands of gallons of rainwater a year, and 15 feet of salt marshes can absorb half of a wave’s energy from storm surge. Beach dunes and wetlands can also be beneficial.

However, those tools are at risk. Coastal development, boat traffic and the rising sea level are partially attributed to the erosion and shrinkage of salt marshes, according to the report, with about half of the state’s shoreline eroding at an average rate of 1.8 ft a year.

A potential Horry County project mentioned in the plan would be raising Big Bull Landing Road for 2,800 ft to create a dam to prevent the Pee Dee River from flooding across the Bucksport area and into the Waccamaw River. The $900,000 project is ranked as a medium priority project, according to a list from the South Carolina Emergency Management Division. 

Preparing for the future

Flood Factor predicts that thousands more homes in the Grand Strand and Pee Dee area are at risk of being flooded within the next 30 years.

In Murrells Inlet’s 29576 zip code, more than 600 additional homes will be at risk, with the cost of damage from flooding predicted to rise by 39%.

In the 29588 zip code, where Felder lives, about 1,200 more homes will be at risk. 

Thomas Bell, the public information officer for Horry County Emergency Management, said there’s different projections depending where different groups think the climate will go in the next decade. 

“In emergency management, we can’t really stake everything on what one group, or a group of folks, are saying in terms of ‘this is what we think the waterways or flood risks is going to be in 30 years,’” he said. 

Instead, it bases preparedness efforts off past events. Hurricane Florence in 2018, he said, is seen as the benchmark for a worst-case scenario and taught emergency management about how high the water could go, how quickly it could get there and how long it took to recede — especially since flooding also happened in areas that aren’t FEMA-designated flood zones. 

“There is a lot of learning that comes from that,” Bell said. 

Storms also vary, he said, and emergency management doesn’t necessarily know what will happen until it does. 

The division has predictive models that are used to create maps. It also tries to stay adaptable about what might happen.

“We plan on past events, but we also think about what are the trends that we are seeing,” Bell said. 

The county’s plans include assuring that critical police, fire and EMS services stay online.

It also uses the county’s Imagine 2040 plan to see how many people are predicted to move into the area and where, along with what it can expect as far as new infrastructure. That growth, he said, can change evacuations and timelines.

Bell advises locals to look into flood insurance, whether or not someone lives in a designated flood zone.

Emergency preparedness begins with seeking information about what hazards they might face, he said. People who move into the area often look into what their new prospective neighborhood and school might be like, they also need to consider the flood risk. 

People should be aware of where their evacuation zones are, when they’d have to evacuate and which route to take. While every emergency kit looks different, Bell recommends having one that includes medications and important documents, along with a few extra rolls of toilet paper.

Use the database below to search for the predicted risks and damage increases for selected area zip codes. Information for some zip codes has not yet been made available.