Around lunchtime, Steven Swank, 23, was packing a few cases of water into a little sedan. In 1999, the Grid was inundated by river flooding after Hurricane Floyd, and Mr. Swank wanted none of it. He and his girlfriend were going to his sister’s house for a while.
“She lives over behind the Cracker Barrel, not near any water,” he said. “We don’t want to be stuck here.”
Worries were running equally high in inland South Carolina. Fifteen miles northwest of the gaudy spectacle of Myrtle Beach sits the quiet county seat of Conway, a nearly 290-year-old town shaded by live oaks and straddling the Waccamaw River. Time and again — in Hurricanes Floyd and Matthew, to name just two occasions — Myrtle Beach has been spared the worst damage, while Conway has taken a heavy hit: flash floods with the storm itself, then river floods in the days that followed.
“The water collects really quickly, and people think that’s the flooding, but it’s flash flooding,” said Le Hendricks, the Conway fire chief. “That goes down pretty quick, and then they think they’re free. B ut then what happens is, the Waccamaw River gets backed up.”
Chief Hendricks described a kind of hydrological traffic jam: Water trying to leave the Waccamaw meets flooded waterways and a surging ocean at capacity. The river has nowhere to go but over its banks, onto highways and roads and into people’s homes.
This kind of flooding might not happen at its worst until two days after the hurricane hits, but when it does, the water can sit for weeks. Meanwhile, places on the coast might have already begun rebuilding from any damage wrought by the winds and the initial surge.
“Myrtle Beach, they did fairly will during Matthew,” Chief Hendricks said. “They had damage but were back up and running within a couple of days.”
Conway, at first, thought it had dodged a bullet, as well, he said. “But it was the flooding. And it took about 18 days for us to get back out of that.”