About 90% of all U.S. natural disasters declared by the president involve some degree of flooding, and Hurricane Matthew was no exception. One small town was hit especially hard by the unyielding floodwaters and some wonder if it will ever recover.
The town of Nichols in rural South Carolina was not directly hit by the hurricane last month, yet it was completely consumed by the flood. Its location 50 miles inland between two converging rivers caused it to fill up like a bathtub. Residents evacuated the area and in their absence, a confection of water, fertilizer, fuel, and sewage stewed and settled for a week or more.
Unacknowledged, the water damage caused toxic black mold to grow and spread, leaving virtually all the town’s homes uninhabitable.
Reverend Eddie Collier of Nichols’ Methodist church woke up to find his bedroom completely flooded. While waiting for a rescue boat, he opened a window but had to shut it immediately because “the odor was horrific.”
Collier, with the help of church volunteers and AmeriCorps members, had to gut his house down to the studs. He is encouraging others to return home to clean out their houses, but he noted that few are in a rush to come back to the mess.
He saw one set of neighbors, but said that they “threw up their hands and left. I haven’t seen them since.”
The majority of the town’s 400 residents are disabled or retired, and Major Lawson Battle said that he is concerned about “the citizens who couldn’t make ends meet before this happened.”
Few residents had flood insurance, and many cannot afford to take out the loans FEMA is offering.
“These people are not getting the resources they need to even get back to town,” said the mayor. “It’s going to take a huge miracle to fix Nichols.”
All 22 of the town’s businesses were damaged by the flood. In fact, only two businesses – a seed-cleaning company and an auto mechanic shop – have been able to open back up.
A 63-year-old school cafeteria manager, Hazel Lee, was getting ready to retire before the hurricane hit. After losing her home of 40 years, she will now have to put those plans on hold.
“If I could afford it, I would relocate myself,” she said.
There are ways to be proactive in the face of an impending natural disaster, including investing in flood insurance. However, not everyone can afford to take advantage of those preventative measures. The tragedy facing the residents of Nichols, South Carolina is one example of the devastation caused by hurricanes and other natural disasters in regions that are already suffering from economic hardship.
In a hurricane, a metal roof can protect your home from major damage due to its 140 miles per hour wind rating. Still, flooding can wreak havoc on more vulnerable parts of the home, causing serious water damage that costs an average of $2,386 to repair.