If anyone wondered whether South Carolina was susceptible to flooding, no doubt should remain after major parts of the state were deluged twice in two years. The only question remaining is how residents will protect themselves from floods in the future.
South Carolinians in low-lying parts of the state will be cleaning up from Hurricane Matthew for months. This hurricane was a relatively weak category 1 storm when it swept across the state, but it nonetheless caused serious damage to buildings close to the coast and dumped enough rain to cause flooding days and weeks later as creeks, rivers and tributaries swelled over their banks.
The so-called 100-year flood the state suffered last year did severe damage to inland cities, particularly in the Midlands and Lowcountry. The effect was exacerbated by a number of private and public dams that failed during the torrent.
Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency reports that only 9 percent of South Carolina residents have flood insurance. The figure was only 5 percent in North Carolina, which suffered even worse damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.
Experts say that climate change is certain to make flooding events more frequent from now on. That means issues that have lingered for decades now are more urgent.
For example, why does the state permit residents who lose homes in flood-prone areas or sites adjacent to the coastline where they are susceptible to hurricanes to rebuild on the same site after their homes are destroyed? Taxpayers help foot the bill for this through public subsidies for the National Flood Insurance Program and costly projects such as beach renourishment in an effort to hold off inevitable erosion along the coast.
Even with subsidized flood insurance policies, however, premiums can be $400 to $600 a year even in low- to moderate-risk areas. Many homeowners can’t afford flood insurance or choose to gamble that they won’t be flood victims.
The result is a continuing cycle of lost property in vulnerable areas.
We learned last year that hundreds of dams in the state are inadequate to hold back the surge during a significant flooding episode. Lawmakers need to ensure that regulators have the resources to ensure that dams are sufficient and that owners repair and maintain their dams so their neighbors are not flooded if they fail.
FEMA officials note that flooding is the most common and costly disaster that occurs in the United States. Flood claims have averaged more than $1.9 billion a year since 2006.
And we should be well aware that flooding can happen here, taking an enormous toll in property damage and lost lives. We will face this threat again, and we, as a state, need to be prepared.