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Matthew’s floods stole everything. Now, a neighborhood stares down the waters again

Inside her neighbor’s garage, Ashley Atkins leaned against a wall marked by a 2-foot-high water stain.

She stared across the street.

There was the front yard where her little girls play.

The small patch of grass had been reduced to a giant sponge — easily overwhelmed by the onslaught of heavy rain that’s fallen along South Carolina’s coastline over the past four days.

Part of Atkins’ driveway on Rosewood Drive in Socastee, S.C., had vanished by Saturday — submerged in a pool of water near the edge of the street.

This much water would be manageable, she said.

But, forecasters expect it to get worse.

Meteorologists predict catastrophic flooding in local rivers and waterways from Florence’s rains.

It’s the kind of nightmare warning that Atkins and her neighbors have heard before.

Two years ago, the Rosewood Estates neighborhood was one of the hardest hit areas of Horry County when flooding from Hurricane Matthew devastated the area.

Aerial video footage shows Atkins’ street underwater — the metal roof of her house and those of neighbors appearing as brown and gray islands surrounded by Matthew’s waters.

Back on her own porch this weekend, Atkins pointed down the road and talked about how neighbors banded together in 2016. One man used his boat to shuttle the Atkins family to and from their home once it was surrounded by several feet of water.

Every room in their house had damage from floodwaters flowing out of the nearby intercoastal waterway. The Waccamaw River, a feeder river, reached a record-high flood stage of nearly 18 feet.

Ashley and Jeff Atkins and their two young daughters were displaced from their home for nearly four months after Matthew. But they were determined to return home.

Jeff Atkins spent months tearing down four feet of walls, and his family went into debt to save their home.

They rebuilt, repainted and replaced.

They bought new appliances and furniture.

Eventually, Ashley Atkins said, they began to heal.

“We were still getting good from Matthew, and we thought we were in a good spot,” Atkins said.

But now, she said, they’re steeling themselves for another worst-case scenario.

Her preparations started days before Florence, then still a hurricane, made landfall more than 100 miles away in Wilmington, N.C.

Atkins stacked household items, mattresses, valuables and children’s toys as high as she could using tables and shelves. The family packed travel bags and rented a U-Haul so they could evacuate quickly with their belongings if Florence’s flooding.

Her children, 5 and 9, are scared, Atkins said.

“They’re already asking, ‘Mommy, are we gonna have to move again?’ They’re already thinking that we’re gonna be flooded out again.”

Almost everyone in this small Socastee community has a story like this since Matthew hit.

The last thing any of them need, neighbors said, is a sequel.

No time to rest

When you’ve been through what Rosewood Estates has been through, preparing for a major storm becomes an intense and personal act of resiliency, neighbors say.

“I’m not gonna be fooled,” says Terri Straka, who spent $40,000 on repairs to her home after Matthew in 2016.

That time, her home escaped severe damage from the hurricane but was pummeled later by unexpected high water levels in nearby rivers and waterways.

Chaos unfolded quickly. Straka said she had mere hours to leave her home as floodwaters rushed in.

She’s anticipating the same — or worse — from Florence.

“We’re sitting ducks, just waiting,” Straka said.

“It’s extremely stressful. Not only are you worried about the winds and rain during the actual hurricane itself but then, the aftermath. You don’t have time to rest.”

After learning lessons from Matthew, Straka and her neighbors moved with precision to make sure they’re as protected as possible from Florence floods.

Multiple neighbors began days ago elevating their furniture with bricks and moving smaller items to higher spots in the house. Several households had already packed large box trucks and relocated their belongings to relatives’ homes.

The work takes days, Straka said. It was further complicated when about half the street lost electricity Friday morning.

If there’s time, Straka said she planned to remove bathroom vanities and other expensive fixtures in her home. Even minor flooding in a house, she said, will ruin, for example, interior doors.

“That’s $100 a pop right there. Ten doors — that’s $1,000,” Straka said. “It adds up.”

As Straka, Atkins and others kept working, local government officials in Horry County shared news that validated their concerns.

“Prepare to evacuate. Use Hurricane Matthew as your point of reference (for flooding),” Mark Lazarus, Horry County Council chairman said Saturday during a news conference.

“If you flooded (during Matthew),” Lazarus said, “you have a great potential of flooding again in these events, perhaps at higher levels.”

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