Drone footage in Conway, SC, as floodwater creeps toward the Horry County government building
The way to know it’s time again to flee Bucksport Road, veteran evacuee Shanon Green said Thursday, is to look out a window at home to the woods and water that surround his Horry County community on three sides.
“I look to the ditch to overflow, and to the backyard to look like a pond,” Green, 38, said wearily from an emergency shelter in Conway.
Generations of his extended family have lived in Bucksport, a quiet tangle of greenery 15 miles west of Myrtle Beach between the Waccamaw and Great Pee Dee rivers just outside the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge.
It’s such a peaceful place for disaster. But this week Green and some other Horry County residents say the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, the third assault by floodwaters in four years, marks the time to leave the water’s edge for good.
Green, like thousands of others, survived the deluge of rain in 2015 that’s now simply called the 100-year flood. Hurricane Matthew, in 2016, destroyed his late mother’s home, filling it with water nearly to the ceiling.
Days after Florence blew through, the Waccamaw River is still rising in a slow-motion catastrophe that’s not expected to climax until the middle of next week. The Waccamaw could crest three to four feet higher than Matthew’s record, threatening homes and road access to the county’s eastern side.
Green, who said he has a brain tumor and can’t work, has had enough. “Where I want to go is where you come from,” he told a reporter from Charlotte.
Others echoed that feeling, at least for now, across Horry County this week.
In Conway, Kevin Tovornik packed his belongings onto a friend’s trailer. Better now, he said Thursday, than in high water.
Flash flooding from Crabtree Swamp had covered four of the five steps leading into his home. That was all his wife had needed to see, even before the river rises a projected four feet higher and swamps the house for the first time.
“We’ve got friends looking for a place for us to rent right now,” Tovornik said as volunteers carried furniture from his home. About every third car in his neighborhood, Sherwood, was a moving van or a water damage restoration contractor.
After three floods of their home on Lee’s Landing Circle near Conway, Lenore Letellier said she and her 12 cats will never return.
“I’m done. This is the last time,” she said Tuesday evening as a National Guard truck drove through the water on her street.
Letellier said she didn’t know how often the Waccamaw flooded when she and her husband bought the house 14 years ago, but with Florence bringing a third flood in four years — each worse than the last — she knows she can’t stay.
“The really sad part is you make all these memories and friends,” she said. “You don’t just lose your home ... it’s a good chunk of your life and you can’t get that back.”
Letellier wept as she tried to soothe her cats while waiting for a friend and son to take the cats to a shelter. She was hopeful she’ll be able to get all 12 back eventually, but she won’t be living near water.
“I don’t even want to put my toes on the beach right now,” she said.
Others, as they prepared to leave, were determined that their departure would be temporary.
Terry and Erin Gore have lived in Conway’s Pitch Landing only since May. After four months in their riverfront home, they packed up their valuables and got out.
“We’re lucky. Most people don’t have a place to go,” Erin Gore said Wednesday.
With help from others, the Gores used a jon boat to float their most important possessions to a Jeep parked just feet away from the rising floodwater. They’ll sleep at the karate and dance school they own in Conway until it’s safe, but the couple said it was crushing to evacuate so soon after buying their new home.
“It’s a beautiful place,” Terry Gore said.
On Bucksport Road, retired construction worker Donald Gause, 65, used a blower to tidy up the yard of his mobile home. Gause and his wife, Shirley, left Bucksport for Columbia, where their grandchildren live, before Florence struck. They’ll leave again if county officials say they should, but not gladly.
Legal documents are in a briefcase, ready to grab and go along with family photos. Still, the place has been home for 35 years and is where the couple raised four children. Hurricane Matthew’s floodwaters came no closer than a quarter-mile away, and Florence left no more than snapped twigs in the yard.
“Matthew taught me something — not to leave for Florence,” Gause chuckled before turning serious.
“It has a fear to it,” he said of facing Florence. “It seems like something with a personality — it’s just like, ‘I’m here!’ It’s ferocious but had not the Lord been with us it could have come in as a Category 4.”
But there’s a sense of finality in communities that have drowned time after time.
Two years after Hurricane Matthew, the 400-resident Marion County town of Nichols is underwater again. The nearby Lumber River was rising 9 inches an hour Wednesday morning, town clerk Sandee Rogers said.
The entire town has evacuated, Rogers said, just as it did in 2016 when record flooding from the Little Pee Dee and Lumber rivers swamped it from two sides. Only about 60 percent of the town’s 261 households and half of its 22 businesses returned.
“This might do it in for Nichols,” 86-year-old James Little, a former mayor, said as he ate Wednesday at an Arby’s in Mullins. “I’m afraid so.”
Little and his wife of 65 years, Bonnie, had just returned from Greenville, where they spent the past week riding out Florence after floodwaters blocked them from their home. Some residents have told him they will leave Nichols. The Littles, who spent a year out of their own home while it was repaired following the 2016 flooding, might be among them.
“We’ve done it one time,” the retired mechanic said. “I don’t know if I want to go through it again.”
Staff writers Tyler Fleming, David Weissman and Avery Wilks contributed.