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Death Toll in Record Carolinas Flooding Now At 13

A man kayaks on Tall Pines Circle in Columbia, S.C., Sunday. Many parts of South Carolina experienced record rainfall over the weekend, triggering widespread flooding.
Sean Rayford
Getty Images
A man kayaks on Tall Pines Circle in Columbia, S.C., Sunday. Many parts of South Carolina experienced record rainfall over the weekend, triggering widespread flooding.

Update at 4:30 a.m. ET Tuesday: Death Toll Raised To At Least 13

Record rainfall is expected to taper off in much of South Carolina Tuesday, after severe flooding left houses in Columbia and elsewhere with water up to their eaves. But officials say the crisis is not over, and residents should stay away from dangerous roadways.

At least 11 deaths were reported in the South Carolina and two in North Carolina.

In South Carolina, some 40,000 people are without water. In addition, 70 miles of Interstate 95 are closed to traffic.

"If you're in your house, continue to stay in your house," Gov. Nikki Haley said Monday. "This is not the time to take pictures."

She added that even in areas where rain has stopped, "This is not over."

Urging South Carolina residents to check on neighbors, Haley said, "When tragedy happens, we lift each other up."

At least five people died in vehicles found in flooded streets in the Columbia area. Officials said at least four other people died in traffic-related incidents.

Update at 12:15 a.m. ET: Nearly 1,000 People In Shelters

In South Carolina, 25 shelters are now harboring 932 people against floodwaters and other damage, Haley said. Providing an update on conditions Monday, Haley said 1,300 members of the National Guard are now deployed, with 7,000 more troops on alert.

Haley said she had just spoken to President Obama just before noon, and that he had been "extremely gracious and kind" in offering support to her state. She also said that Wal-Mart had donated 80,000 bottles of water — something many residents are requesting.

The governor said 11 counties are likely federal disaster areas; she added that the federal government had allowed her to make a verbal request for a major disaster declaration, instead of requiring paperwork to begin the process.

"I just can't say enough about how great the feds have been to work with," Haley said.

Haley gave an update on the emergency at a news conference along with officials from emergency agencies. You can watch that via SC Educational TV.

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"We were anticipating a 100-year event," Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin tells Morning Edition. "This is a 1,000-year event."

"Historic and life-threatening flooding occurring and expected to continue into Monday for portions of the Carolinas," the National Weather Service says.

Hundreds of people have been rescued in Columbia, Benjamin tells NPR's Renee Montagne, with police and firefighter crews navigating downed power lines, strong currents, sinkholes and other hazards to reach stranded people.

"It's something we've never seen before," he said, and "something we don't ever hope to see again."

South Carolina is receiving the worst rain Hurricane Joaquin brought ashore, as the storm slowly moves northward away from Bermuda. On Saturday, President Obama declared a state of emergency in the state.

A curfew was in effect in Columbia last night, and on Monday, officials are again urging people to stay off the roads. In addition to flood hazards, thousands were left without power and drinking water, and many trees were downed — a situation that could worsen today, as forecasters expect wind gusts up to 30 mph in areas where the soil has been saturated with water.

Many areas in and around the capital in Columbia, in the center of the state, recorded more than a foot of rainfall on Sunday. Forecasters say that today, it's the state's Lowcountry, which got soaked over the weekend, that could get the worst of the rain.

Today's forecast map from the National Weather Service office in Columbia shows wide swaths of blue in the state, reflecting less than an inch of expected rain. It's a welcome change from the weekend, when a summary of the weekend's rain totals showed a huge patch of the state covered in pink and purple — colors that signify more than a foot of rain.

The NWS-Columbia office says the heaviest rains will shift back toward the coast through Tuesday morning, dropping more than an inch of rain along the shoreline. The weather agency says Sunday brought 16.61 inches of rain to Gills Creek in Richland County, while Fort Jackson also was hit by more than 14 inches.

South Carolina is also coping with flooding along its coastline, from Myrtle Beach in the north to Charleston and other areas in the south.

Along with the major East Coast artery of I-95, portions of three other interstates — I-20, I-26 and I-77 — were also closed in South Carolina on Monday. Flooded roadways were the cause in most cases, and in some instances, officials are concerned that bridges may have been rendered unsafe.

On the coast, floodwaters teamed with the high tide to ruin some recent efforts to renourish coastal dunes near Hilton Head, where resident John Strother tells the Island Packet newspaper that dunes "lost between 10 and 20 feet of sand over the weekend."

Update at 7:10 p.m. ET: President Obama Signs Disaster Declaration

President Obama declared a "major disaster exists in the state of South Carolina and ordered federal aid to supplement state, tribal, and local recovery efforts in the area affected by severe storms and flooding," according to a White House statement.

This action allows federal funding to be used for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property, and other programs to help individuals and business recover from the water damage.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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