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South Carolina Girds For Long Recovery From Record Rains


The skies are clear in South Carolina's capital, Columbia, this morning. Rescue teams are taking advantage of the break from torrential rain to search vehicles and homes that were flooded. The death toll is now 13 across the Carolinas. At least five people who died there in Columbia were found in their vehicles. With us now is George Kearns of South Carolina Public Radio. Good morning.

GEORGE KEARNS, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: With this better weather, are the people of Columbia getting back to their flooded homes?

KEARNS: They're trying to. In many cases, they're not able to, as of yet. The homes that have been damaged the worst in many case are still under water. South Carolina Emergency Management Division here is asking people that can stay home to just stay home and stay off the roads. Those who can't, we have a number of evacuation centers that are still open.

MONTAGNE: And over these last couple of days, there have been some very dramatic rescues - first responders, I mean, pulling people from vehicles in fast-moving water. What are people saying about how bad this storm was? What are the stories you're hearing?

KEARNS: Well, I don't believe that anyone thought it would be as bad as it became. I think a lot of people are giving credit to Governor Nikki Haley and the response teams because so many people were prepared for what they call swift water rescues. And so many lives were saved because, you know, once dams broke and rivers overflowed, they swept through communities at a rate that I don't think anybody was really prepared for.

MONTAGNE: Right. The governor has called this not a hundred-year storm but a thousand-year storm. And so that - maybe regular folks weren't paying as much attention if, say, there was a hurricane coming. Still, the authorities, I gather, did pretty well.

KEARNS: I believe that is the case. As far as civilians go, I don't think we really know how to prepare for something that happens once in a thousand years. But I think the leaders of the state reached out to other states and to the federal government, had numerous National Guard members on standby. And that number has been increasing each and every day. And I think Governor Haley reached out to - for instance, swift water rescue teams from Florida, who are familiar with this sort of thing, have been in Columbia and in Charleston, performing their duties, duties that they've performed before and were very well-equipped to deal with. So I think Governor Haley responded and prepared very well for something, like I say, that only happens once in a thousand years. That can't be an easy thing to do.

MONTAGNE: What is the biggest challenge now for officials, for people there in Columbia and around South Carolina?

KEARNS: The challenges are the challenges that come with any type of flood, compromised bridges, roadways that are impassable. Most of the affected areas - businesses are closed again today. Government offices are closed today. Schools are closed again today. So hopefully traffic issues won't be much of a problem. But I think, again, the challenges that they face are the challenges you face with typical flooding. What do you do with this water? We can get rid of it, but where do we put it?

MONTAGNE: Well, so glad the rain has gone away. And thank you for talking with us.

KEARNS: Renee, thank you.

MONTAGNE: George Kearns is with South Carolina Public Radio in Columbia, the state capital. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.