By Elodie CUZIN
Columbia, United States (AFP) Oct 5, 2015
The death toll from record floods in the US state of South Carolina jumped from three to nine Monday, as tens of thousands were left without power and drinking water, the governor said.
Shaken residents sought refuge in shelters while authorities carried out evacuations by air since hundreds of roads and bridges were closed to traffic.
"We are unfortunately now at nine weather-related fatalities," Governor Nikki Haley told reporters on the outskirts of the capital Columbia, which has been especially hard hit.
Some 26,000 other South Carolinians did not have electricity and 40,000 had no drinking water, said Haley who on Sunday called the extreme floods a once-in-a-thousand-year event.
Water distribution points were being planned for Columbia by the end of the day, since drinking from the city system was not considered safe after breaches in the canal supplying the city.
Other distribution centers were going to be added around the state in coming days.
Local media reported firefighters were pumping fresh water to the water systems of Columbia's hospitals, which, like the rest of the city, had been advised to boil water before using it.
Schools remained closed Monday in Columbia, as did most government offices and shops.
The tropical air mass that has drenched the southeastern state since Thursday dumped 14 inches (35 centimeters) of rain over the weekend, a new record, according to the National Weather Service.
Sunday, that downpour caused sudden and dramatic flooding throughout the state, leaving residents scrambling for safety.
"Our house, car -- we lost everything. Everything is underwater. We didn't get time to do nothing," said Patricia Harde, 48, who fled with her two adult daughters and their four small children, including a baby of four months, to a school-turned-shelter.
"The water was coming up to my waist when we left," she added. "I went back to try to get things for the baby -- milk and Pampers -- but I couldn't. Everything was covered in water."
Firefighters came to rescue them. But while some rode in the boat, others had to walk through the rapidly rising dirty water.
The water was still rising when they got to first shelter, so they moved on.
"I'd always seen this on TV, but I never thought it would happen to us," said Harde, whose birthday was Monday.
The Red Cross has opened some 30 shelters across South Carolina.
Even residents who were able to remain home were rattled.
"It was traumatic, I've never seen anything like this," said Phyllis Jones, a fifty-year resident of Columbia, the state capital.
Jones lives in an upstairs apartment at complex called Willow Creek, whose namesake waterway completely inundated the ground-floor units Sunday with flash floods.
The water receded Monday, but Jones said she has not left her apartment "for fear of looting."
She had stocked up on drinking water ahead of the flooding, but on Monday she found herself without electricity.
- 'Everything is lost' -
Rescue and repair workers were hard at work, Haley said, adding that 25 helicopter evacuations had already been conducted.
Across the state, some 550 roads and bridges -- some of which were completely washed out by flash floods -- were closed to traffic.
In the historic coastal city of Charleston, population 130,000, more than 900 people were being housed in 25 emergency centers Monday, she said.
Haley said she had spoken with President Barack Obama and that he had declared a federal state of emergency for the state, authorizing additional federal aid.
Eva Gadsen, 72, heard someone at her door Sunday morning saying she needed to get out.
"When I opened the door, the water was at my waist," she said, and when she opened it, it rushed in.
"When we got around the corner I saw the fridge coming out of my apartment, going across the water," she said.
"Thank God I am still alive and I have a place to stay. People who went back to the building say everything is lost."
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