Vandals cut water lines, set fire to shrubs and even stole bathtubs from the vacant Midtown Apartments, prompting Rock Hill officials to step up police patrols and close a street while demolition work unfolds.
Several cattail bushes were burned down to charred stubs, and firefighters responded to put out the brush fires.
"I'm trying to put a stop to all that," said Ray Koterba, the city's director of housing and neighborhood services. "I talked to the police and fire departments, and they all agreed. I don't want anybody getting hurt."
After crews finish razing the 1960s-era public housing complex, the city plans to leave the site as green space until a redevelopment plan takes shape.
In the meantime, thieves have hauled bath tubs from vacant apartments, presumably hoping to re-sell cast-iron at the junkyard, Koterba said. Thieves sliced water lines in search of copper, causing water to gush through buildings.
The city will close Rauch Street beginning Wednesday in hopes of reducing traffic in the area. The affected portion is from Roddey to Scoggins streets, a cut-through in the Sunset Park neighborhood.
The 96-unit complex got so bad that city officials decided in November to level the project, three buildings at a time, over the next several months.
Three buildings have been demolished and three more await test results for contaminants such as asbestos, Koterba said. The goal is to raze the entire complex in six months.
Thefts of metal and copper have been on the rise for several years, police say, after a jump in metal prices driven by overseas demand.
This month, Rock Hill police reported copper and metal thefts are increasing "at an alarming rate" as prices reach all-time highs.
Air conditioners, copper pipes, storm grates and cemetery vases are targets for criminals, police said in an annual crime report.
A rise in foreclosures and vacant rental property are among the factors leading to more burglary reports with these larcenies, police found.