Dams in danger of failing, sheriff says, as aftermath of Hurricane Florence wrecks rural SC county

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People fled for higher ground Sunday night as creeks rose in Cheraw and rural Chesterfield County, where dams were being battered and at least one was thought to be in danger of failure.

Chesterfield County Sheriff Jay Brooks said authorities were concerned about whether the Cheraw State Park dam would hold up under the stress of drenching rains and rising creeks.

Water was pouring over the top and around the sides, he said. Several communities lie below the dam and 350-acre lake south of Cheraw.

“So far it has held but I don’t know how long it will,’’ Brooks said. Brooks said authorities were closing part of U.S. 52 between Cheraw and Society Hill.

Brooks said the dam at Chatham Lake also was a concern, but was holding up Sunday night.

Sunday’s problems result from extraordinary rainfall that has hit the Carolinas as a result of Hurricane Florence, a wide storm that blasted North Carolina’s coast before moving inland. As much as 2 feet of rain fell on parts of North Carolina, but eastern South Carolina also was pelted for days. Rain in North Carolina was swelling creeks and rivers that flow into South Carolina.

Creeks that feed into the Great Pee Dee River had risen so high that dozens of people had to evacuate to higher ground, Brooks and Cheraw Police Chief Keith Thomas said. Thomas said 10 to 12 families had to be evacuated early Sunday, while another 10 motorists had to be rescuted from cars stranded in flooded intersections.

Heavy rains also forced the evacuation of a shelter at the town’s community center Sunday night.

Thomas said water started creeping into the town’s community center, eventually putting more than a foot of water inside, he said. Those staying at the shelter were then evacuated to Cheraw High School, he and Brooks said.

“We got the National Guard vehicles and we evacuated,’’ Thomas said Sunday night. “We had a little over 50 when it started flooding, and another 20 showed up, and we had to take them to the high school as well.’’

Among those evacuated from homes earlier Sunday was an elderly man, whose brick house and yard filled with water from nearby Bear Creek, which had spilled its banks and flooded out a road. At Teal’s Mill Pond, locals said an old dam that already was in disrepair was being pounded with high water. At about 6:30 p.m., water was pouring over the highway and dam.

A developing problem, Brooks said, was where people can go if their homes are in danger of flooding. Many roads in the county are washed out, making it difficult for people to find shelter or get out of the area, he said.

“We’ve got a lot of roads closed, we’ve got a lot of communities isolated,’’ Brooks said.