South Carolina’s efforts to prepare for storms of the future

News13 Investigates

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) – Recent hurricanes like Matthew and Florence have shown that disaster recovery can be a costly and lengthy process. Jean Moultrie of Latta can tell you that first hand.

Moultrie has been living with family as she waits for a new house to be built where her lifelong home stood before Matthew and Florence invaded.

“Water came into the unit and messed up the unit and everything,” she remembered. “I actually had my sister come from North Carolina, and everytime the bulldozer (did) something she would cry.”

Aubrasha Jenkins, a case manager for the region, said finding funding can be a major hurdle during the lengthy process that is getting families back info safe homes. Moultrie is far from the only one still waiting.

“We personally, for Palmetto Disaster Recovery, we have about 700-plus clients,” Jenkins said. “So that is quite a few, and we’re just getting started with the CDBG grant.”

Projects like Moutlrie’s in Latta are plastered all over the wall in the Columbia office that houses the state’s brand new Office of Resilience.

“Disasters have been quite frequent here lately, and this office kind of evolved from disaster recovery and a reaction mode to moving more towards a proactive response to disasters,” Chief Resilience Office Ben Duncan said.

Gov. Henry McMaster appointed Duncan to serve as the state’s first Chief Resilience Officer earlier this year. He shared his goals for the office with News13 during his first TV sit down since being appointed.

“In five years, we’re hoping we have more adequate drainage systems,” Duncan said. “We’re hoping that we will move more people out of the way from river flooding.”

The office is in the process of making a statewide resilience plan to help guide investments in flood projects and buyouts.

“Private dollars assisting in mitigation efforts are going to be part of what we’re looking at also,” Duncan said.

In places like Nichols, some may see investing as a risk.

The town saw catastrophic flooding in 2016 and 2018 after hurricanes ripped through the region. But John Treece saw opportunity for his automative aftermarket company DMA Sales.

“Our company has experienced unbelievable exponential growth,” Treece said.

That’s why he’s been rehabbing an old building in Nichols to house the company’s newest distribution center. He’s not letting the risk of flooding get in his way.

“You’re actually looking at the challenge and saying ‘how do we mitigate what we can and work around what we can’t?’ “

To minimize any losses should water invade, several measures are in place. Electric runs across the ceiling, equipment is raised above the floodplain and a flood-barrier wall protects the most vulnerable parts of the building.

Treece said it made more financial sense to invest in those mitigation methods in Nichols than to build or buy in a more expensive market.

In Horry County, meanwhile, investment is guided with a comprehensive plan called Imagine 2040. It outlines the county’s principles with land use, among a lot more, and addresses risk mitigation.

“How do we mitigate flood risk and how do we accommodate all those new homes or new families that are moving to the area?” president and founder of group Horry County Rising April O’Leary said. “And the truth is we need to go up.”

O’Leary said building taller east of the Waccamaw can help avoid too much sprawl into rural parts of the county. Principle planner Leigh Kane agrees that tactic can present benefits to the county.

“Such as avoiding those high hazard prone areas,” she said. “But also being able to help recharge communities that maybe have had disinvestment.”

Some advocates like O’Leary worry that the principles in the plan aren’t always followed when looking at new development.

Kane said it won’t all happen at once.

“The one thing about a comprehensive plan is you’re not anticipated to implement everything immediately,” she said. “So there’s some steps that need to occur so some you have to have it kind of in an iterative process.” 

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