Gills Creek flowed a little higher and a little quicker than normal Friday morning after lakes along the watershed were lowered in anticipation of Hurricane Florence’s arrival in the South Carolina Midlands.
Nearly three years ago, torrential downpours and broken dams riled the creek, ravaging scores of homes and businesses with flooding never seen before in the Columbia area.
With memories of October 2015 still painfully fresh in their minds, residents and business owners along Gills Creek kept wary but cautiously optimistic eyes on the Florence forecast as the weekend neared.
“I feel OK. People are like ‘Oh, my gosh!’ and I’m like, ‘Well, we’ve been through it one time,’” said Karen Hood from her newly remodeled home at the corner of Kilbourne Road and Burwell Drive. Where Gills Creek flows out of the base of Lake Katherine in east Columbia, this neighborhood was one of the worst-hit by the 2015 floods.
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“I think there’s a little trepidation. Just the ‘Oh, my god, not again’ feeling,” she said.
The Weather Channel played in Karen and Vince Hood’s sterling living room Friday morning, showing scenes from Florence’s strike on Wilmington, N.C. Half a million North Carolinians were without power so far, the TV headline said.
Outside the Hoods’ home, the wind was comfortably breezy, the skies gray but calm.
Inside, their kitchen island bears the scars of 2015. It’s one of the few visible reminders they have left of the flood. It took almost 2.5 years thanks to insurance and loan processes, but the house has been completely remodeled since the flood.
“We’ve lost the most personal things already,” Karen said. “There are a few things that we’re going to stick up in the attic. ... But the rest of it, you know, it can be replaced.”
Disaster gave them a new home and new perspective. Whatever happens now almost certainly won’t be as bad as what happened then. Right?
That’s what Daniel and Kristy Goldberg are expecting.
With 3 to 8 inches of rain forecast for the Columbia area as of Friday afternoon, it was looking less likely that Florence would bring a repeat of 2015 flooding to the capital city, though local officials still warned folks to prepare for the worst.
The Goldbergs took a walk with their daughters, Olivia and Maddie, along Kilbourne Road just below Lake Katherine to survey Gills Creek.
Though their house didn’t flood in October 2015, the Goldbergs evacuated for several days, taking shelter for a while at nearby Brennan Elementary School, where 5-year-old Olivia is now a student.
Olivia has been watching the news with her parents. She knew a hurricane was coming. She also knew — thank goodness — that Florence wouldn’t be bringing “Sharknado” with it.
“Everyone’s cautiously optimistic,” Daniel said. “There’s a little PTSD factor in there I think. But it’s not as bad for us.”
“We were safe last time,” Kristy said. “So in order to not be safe, it would have to be worse. But we’re still probably going to pack some luggage.”
Of course, Mary Belkems thought she would be safe the night before the flood of 2015. But she awoke on a Sunday morning to find water surging inside her house and was rescued by two men in a small boat.
She’s not as worried about flooding this time, because the dam situation is better. Still, she is anxious about having to rebuild if that happens.
“I just started all over again,” the retired teacher said. “But this is an unknown. Seeing what’s going on in New Bern – it’s horrible.”
She’s moved what she can to higher ground in the house, chairs on tables. She and her sheltie-German shepherd mix, Maggie, are as prepared as they can be.
“I’ll be glad when it’s passed by.”
If the worst were to happen, Michael Marsha would be far more prepared to weather it all than he was in 2015.
Marsha’s Forest Lake Fabrics store was destroyed by Gills Creek’s flooding in 2015. Six feet of water had rushed through the Forest Drive business.
But the disaster was something of a “blessing in disguise,” Marsha said Friday, because it had given him a better place of business that’s better prepared to face the next storm, which could hit as soon as Saturday.
The entire store was rebuilt 6 feet higher on a new concrete and steel base. Newly installed metal storm shields were being raised Friday over the store’s doors, 5-foot-tall barriers that Marsha hopes will keep flood waters and debris from rushing in like before.
He was comforted that local lake residents and dam owners had heeded directions to lower lake levels ahead of the storm.
Marsha was closely watching the weather models; depending on which path Florence looked likely to take, he would consider moving bolts of fabric and computers upstairs.
“Tonight, we’ll know more. And tomorrow, I’ll prepare,” he said.