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Storm Chasers Recount Harrowing Rescues Amid Historic South Carolina Flooding

By By Brian Lada, AccuWeather Meteorologist
May 16, 2016, 3:23:08 PM EDT

Heavy rain was unrelenting across parts of South Carolina this past weekend, leading to widespread flooding on a historic level.

Central and eastern parts of South Carolina were among the areas that experienced the worst flooding with rainfall totals generally ranging between 1 and 2 feet, the equivalent of several months of rain in a few days.

“It was by far the most intimidating natural disaster I have ever chased,” Storm Chaser and Extreme Meteorologist Reed Timmer said.

Reed Timmer is a long-time storm chaser and has experienced a countless number of severe thunderstorms and lived through catastrophic weather events such as Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy.

AccuWeather Meteorologist Brandon Sullivan was also in South Carolina during the worst of the rain, capturing footage of the flooding and providing AccuWeather with live updates on the flooding situation.

Both Timmer and Sullivan arrived in South Carolina on Friday just as the flooding downpours began to set up over South Carolina.

“Floodwaters were already piling up along the sides of the main interstates [on Friday night] with a few feet of water in spots, especially in the south side of Charleston, South Carolina,” Timmer said.

“Reports of stranded motorists and even water rescues were already flooding in that night,” he continued.

As the flooding escalated so did the number of water rescues. By the end of the weekend, hundreds of rescues had been performed across the state.

“We saw a lot of water rescues via boat, fire departments evacuating people from their homes and air rescues from the coast guard helicopters,” Sullivan said.


One of the rescues that Sullivan witnessed occurred on Sunday afternoon when a man drove his truck directly into swift-moving floodwaters in an attempt to cross a roadway.

“That whole time was incredibly tense and helpless feeling,” Sullivan said. “We watched the guy drive into water that we knew would sweep him away. Then we watched it happen.”

Sullivan called 911 to alert emergency crews that a water rescue needed to be performed to save the man that was trapped in his truck.

However, before crews arrived, a good samaritan took it upon himself to swim through the floodwaters in an attempt to reach the man trapped in his truck.

“While he had good intentions, we kept saying it was not a good idea,” Sullivan explained. “He was swept downstream too, but luckily was able to grab onto a tree and keep from being pulled downstream further.”

Rescue crews with a boat eventually arrived at the scene and were able to bring both people back to safety.

The hardest-hit areas experienced catastrophic flooding with the stress of high waters contributing to dam failures, inundating entire communities and leading to hundreds of road closures.

“The two worst flooding areas we encountered were on the southwest side of the Charleston Peninsula and on the southeast side of Columbia, the latter being by far the most intimidating natural phenomenon I have ever witnessed,” Timmer said.

“Words cannot describe the power of the catastrophic flash flood on the eastern side of Columbia,” Timmer continued. “It looked like the most raging part of the Mississippi River flowing right through a populated area wiping out anything in its path.”

What Led to Historic Rain, Flooding in the Carolinas?
Multiple Dam Failures Aggravate Dangerous Conditions in Flood-Ravaged South Carolina
Why Storm Chasers Chase: The Pursuit of Nature's Fury

While the primary focus of the storm chasers’ trip to South Carolina was to document the flooding, they were prepared for every single survival scenario they could imagine with such historic rainfall amounts anticipated.

“We stocked up on bottled water and non-perishables before arriving in the flood zone,” Timmer said. “The last thing a storm chaser ever wants to do is use any of the resources allocated for the victims of the storm. “

Sullivan added to this, saying, “Food was hard to come by, as there were employees unable to get to work, or no water, so many businesses were shut down.”



Not only did Timmer and Sullivan encounter floodwaters, but also the people living in the areas affected by the historic flooding.

“Most of the people were just staring in disbelief and even awe at the flood waters,” Timmer said.

“Many of the residents we spoke to said this flooding was far worse than anything they saw with Hurricane Hugo, which was one of the worst hurricane landfalls in U.S. history,“ he continued.

Hurricane Hugo was a powerful hurricane that made a direct hit on South Carolina in September of 1989 as a Category 4 Hurricane. It ranks as one of the costliest hurricanes to ever hit the U.S.

Just like in the case of Hugo, it will take South Carolina months to recover following the historic flooding of early October 2015.

“South Carolinians are very resilient people and will undoubtedly build back better and stronger after this devastating storm," Timmer said.

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