NICHOLS, S.C. — To Natalie McDowell, whose family has lived in Nichols for three generations, the flooding from Hurricane Matthew that swamped the Marion County hamlet is like nothing in memory.
But Rawlings LaMotte knows it all too well. The Columbia resident was in Nichols Tuesday checking on his mother-in-law’s house and helping others get around when the only way to do so was by boat.
He did the same thing just over a year ago in a Columbia subdivision when flooding from a 1,000-year storm inundated the state’s capital city.
As South Carolina slowly recovered from Matthew on Tuesday, President Barack Obama declared 13 counties disaster areas, opening the way for federal aid to help local governments and state agencies recover from the storm. Aid for individuals is not now included.
Residents of Hilton Head Island finally got to return to their homes four days after the storm and about 290,000 electric customers around the state remained in the dark.
Gov. Nikki Haley said South Carolina has gone from battling a hurricane to dealing with flooding and warned the flood threat, especially in the Pee Dee, may not ease for days.
In Nichols, about 10 miles from the North Carolina line, McDowell, her husband Tim and two sons, ages 10 and 14 were having a late lunch Sunday after Matthew was headed to sea and thought they had safely weathered a storm that had dropped 15 inches of rain in the area.
“We were fine from the storm. There was no water,” she recalled Tuesday.
That’s why what happened next was so unexpected.
In only 45 minutes the Lumber River more than a mile away rose so quickly the water covered the driveway of their modest ranch house north of town. Just over an hour after that they grabbed some belongings and drove to the nearby hospital where they both work, spending the night with their family in two unoccupied patient rooms.
This week about 150 people from Nichols, a community of only 400, were rescued from rising waters. On Tuesday the National Guard had closed all roads leading to the small business district where buildings stood in several feet of water.
The water was over the porch and almost to the bottom window sill of the McDowell home.
“I’ve just never seen anything like this” McDowell said as she and her husband returned by boat to rescue some more belongings. “Luckily we had a little bit of warning. Some people had none.”
Water has risen throughout the small community’s downtown with a square with a couple of churches and public buildings and a main street with graceful homes with verandas, one owned by LaMotte’s mother-in-law.
He drove to Nichols on Tuesday to check on the home which had standing water inside. He also helped others who needed to get around just as he did a year ago for residents in the flooded Kings Grant subdivision in suburban Columbia.
“You have thousands of people in Columbia ready to help each other. Nobody has even heard of Nichols,” he said.
Now people in Nichols can only wait for the Lumber River to fall, something they hope will happen by Friday.
Returning to her house on Tuesday reassured McDowell that her children’s baby pictures, which she had left on the upper shelf of a closet, had survived the flood. The water had fallen a bit from Monday.
Despite her family’s loss, she was thinking of others.
“So many other people have it so much worse than we do,” she said.