South Carolina is highly susceptible to flooding caused by thunderstorms, hurricanes, seasonal rains, and other weather-related conditions. The state's low-lying topography combined with its humid subtropical climate makes it highly vulnerable to inland or river flooding. 

River flooding occurs when the flow of runoff exceeds the capacities of the natural drainage systems. In 1903, the state’s largest river flood caused the Pacolet River to rise as much as 40 feet in an hour, and resulted in the deaths of sixty-five people.

Coastal flooding often results from a severe weather system like a tropical storm or a hurricane. These floods are extremely damaging because of the combination of storm surge, wind, rain, erosion, and debris. 

Whatever the cause, floods can be fast or slow but generally develop over a period of days, which means in most cases you’ll have some warning before a flood strikes. It’s important to prepare now so you can stay safe when the flood hits. 

What to Do before, during, and after a Flood in South Carolina

All South Carolina residents need to be aware of the potential for flooding in their towns, and must take steps to prepare their home and know what to do before, during, and after a flood. 

The South Carolina Emergency Management Division recommends avoiding building in a flood-prone area to begin with. But if you live in a floodplain, you need to evaluate your home and take steps to minimize the amount of damage that would be done, and you should talk with an independent insurance agent about purchasing flood insurance for your home. 

Before the storm

  • Talk to your local insurance agent about getting flood insurance. Flood damage is not covered by your South Carolina homeowners insurance policy. Flood insurance is provided by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
  • Prepare a home inventory by taking photos and videos of all of your important possessions. If you sustain flood damage, your home inventory will help you file and expedite your insurance claim.  
  • Elevate the furnace, water heater, and electric panel if they are susceptible to flooding.
  • Install check valves in your sewer traps to prevent floodwater from backing up into the drains of your home.
  • Seal the walls in your basement with waterproofing compounds to avoid seepage.
  • Store important documents and irreplaceable possessions where they won’t be damaged, such as on the highest level of your home and in a waterproof container. If a major flood is expected, consider putting these items in a safe storage facility.
  • Prepare and practice a flood evacuation plan with your family.
  • Buy and install a sump pump with backup power.
  • Fill sinks, bathtubs, and jugs with clean water in case your tap water becomes contaminated.
  • Know the flood risk in your area by utilizing FEMA’s online Flood Map Service Center.
  • Be sure you’re ready to receive emergency alerts and community warnings from the Emergency Alert System. 
  • If flash flooding is a risk in your location, always be aware of the potential signs like heavy rain.
  • Gather supplies in case you have to evacuate or if your utility services are disrupted. Keep in mind each person’s specific needs, including medication. Don’t forget supplies for your pets, and to gather extra batteries and charging devices for phones and other equipment.

During the storm

  • Listen to a battery-operated radio for the latest storm information.
  • If local authorities instruct you to turn off all utilities and close your main gas valve, do so immediately.
  • If told to evacuate your home, follow instructions and leave immediately.
  • If water starts to rise inside your house before you evacuate, retreat to the second floor, attic, or roof if necessary.
  • If time allows, disconnect electrical appliances and be prepared to turn off the gas, electric, and water. 
  • If you come in contact with floodwater, wash your hands with soap and disinfected water. Floodwater may carry raw sewage, chemical waste, and other infectious substances.
  • Avoid walking through floodwater. As little as six inches of moving water can knock you off your feet.
  • Never walk, swim, or drive through a flood area or rising water. Remember: turn around, don’t drown!
  • Avoid downed power lines because electric currents pass easily through water.
  • Look out for animals, especially snakes. 
  • Stay off bridges over fast-moving water. Bridges can be washed away without warning during a flood. 

After the storm

  • Listen to authorities for information and instructions. Do not return home until you’ve been told it’s safe to do so. 
  • Avoid driving, except in emergencies.
  • Wear heavy gloves and boots during clean up.
  • Do not touch electrical equipment if it is wet or if you are standing in water. If it is safe to do so, turn off the electricity.
  • Avoid wading in floodwater, which can contain dangerous debris, contaminants, and underground or downed power lines.  
  • Use a generator or other gasoline-powered machinery only outdoors and away from windows.
  • Avoid drinking water from the faucet until you’ve been told that it’s safe to drink.
  • Be careful even in areas where the floodwaters have receded. Even if a roadway or a bridge looks normal, the support structures below may be damaged and compromised.
  • Use extreme caution when entering buildings; there may be dangerous hidden damage to the building and the foundations. Stay out of any building that is surrounded by floodwaters.

Homeowners must exercise extreme caution when returning to their homes to begin the cleanup process after a flood. You need to know how to properly clean, sanitize, and dry out your home and other possessions.

After a flood you need to contact your insurance agent as soon as possible. An independent insurance agent can work with your insurance company to expedite any claims and make the process as stress-free as possible.

How to Stay Safe in Your Home during a Flood

If you’re staying in your home during a flood event or a flood warning, it’s important to stay informed and follow instructions from local officials. If you’re instructed to evacuate, do so as soon as possible and take only essential items and your pets. 

If you’re instructed to shelter in place, move immediately to higher ground or the highest level of your home. If you’re in a first-floor apartment or condominium, try to find shelter on a higher floor. But stay out of attics with no windows or exits to the outside. Sheltering in an attic can be dangerous if the floodwaters force you into a small area with little oxygen and no exits. 

How to Stay Safe in Your Car during a Flood

Half of all flood-related drownings occur when a vehicle is driven into hazardous floodwater. If you happen upon a flooded road while driving, turn around and do not attempt to drive through the water. Six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars, causing loss of control and even stalling. One foot of water will cause many vehicles to float, and two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles, including SUVs and pickup trucks.

If your vehicle is trapped in rapidly moving water, stay inside. If water is rising inside the vehicle, seek refuge on the roof.

How to Stay Safe in a Building during a Flood

If you’re trapped in a building during a flood, follow the guidance of any emergency plans that are posted inside the building. If you don’t receive instructions, then go to the highest level of the building, but do not climb into a closed attic where you may become trapped by rising water. 

Only go out onto the roof if absolutely necessary. And if you are forced onto the roof, signal for help immediately. 

An Agent Can Help You Purchase Flood Insurance in South Carolina

Homeowners who live in Special Flood Hazard Areas in South Carolina are required to purchase flood insurance. In addition, some homeowners in South Carolina are required by their mortgage lenders to purchase flood insurance. 

Flood insurance is optional for all other homeowners, but if you live in a flood-prone city, going without it could be a huge risk. 

The National Flood Insurance Program is administered by the federal government, but is sold through licensed insurance agents in South Carolina. An independent insurance agent can help you assess your flood risks and can help you purchase flood insurance that meets your needs.

Article Reviewed by | Paul Martin

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