Dealing With Disaster

October 28, 2015 02:15 AM

Farmers mull next steps after severe flooding in South Carolina

It has been a cruel year in South Carolina. All summer, much of the state experienced a range of abnormally dry to severe drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Then, in early October, Hurricane Joaquin changed all of that in a major way.

Even though the Category 4 hurricane never directly hit the U.S., it forced more than 20" of rain across big portions of South Carolina and southeast North Carolina. The Weather Channel referred to it as “one of the most prolific rainfall events in modern U.S. history.”

When the storm passed, Palmetto State residents surveyed the fallout.

“I anticipate that damage will probably be in the billions of dollars,” says Mayor Steve Benjamin of Columbia, S.C.. “We’re going to have to work to rebuild. Some people’s lives as they know them 
will never be the same.”

The devastating waters washed out roads, flooded homes and ruined businesses. The storm also submerged thousands of acres of the state’s row and vegetable crops.

“It’s just a complete disaster,” Clemson Extension agent Charles W. Davis Jr. told the Charleston Post Courier. “This is one for the record books. We’ve had rain events before, and they were never very pretty, but this is the one the old-timers are going to talk about. It’s a shipwreck.”

Community Comes Together. Yet events such as these often reveal Mother Nature can break a field much easier than a farmer’s spirits.

Atwood “At” McIntosh, who farms cotton and peanuts near Kingstree, S.C., has seen farmers and neighbors rally. Some have steered their boats to neighbors’ homes to help them evacuate family members and belongings. Others have opened their homes to evacuees.

“Friends from our town and other towns are arranging supplies to be trucked in,” McIntosh says. Delivery of supplies has been a challenge because of damaged infrastructure. About 300 state roads and 160 bridges were closed.

There’s little farmers could have done differently given the severity of the rain event. 

“It makes you realize a lot of material objects aren’t all that important,” he says. “A lot of people lose them in a second.”

Take Caution. Farmers will salvage what they are able, says Thomas Durant, who grows corn, soybeans and tobacco in the Coastal Plains of Clarendon County, S.C. Some vegetable crops were decimated, while other row crops might still have a chance. 

“A crop might be present, but the quality will be so poor, we’ll see deep discounts,” he says.

In McIntosh’s case, the rains buried his peanuts beneath water, raising concerns about rotting and about the crop being downgraded for feedstock instead of human use.  

Durant says the flood is a sobering lesson on disaster preparedness.

“Always err to the side of caution,” he advises. “That was one of my biggest takeaways.”

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