COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Life has started to return to normal in areas of South Carolina inundated by massive floods from days of rain earlier this month. But challenges still remain, including getting Columbia’s water system back in shape and repairing bridges that are forcing Interstate 95 drivers on the East Coast into a more than two-hour detour.
WHAT NEEDS FIXING
The capital of Columbia continues to slowly fix its water system. Workers are trying to shore up the canal that the city uses to bring in drinking water after a breach nearly drained the waterway. They also are trying to finish fixing dozens of water line breaks caused by the massive floods earlier this month.
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The city has been able to tell about 10 percent of its 375,000 customers they no longer have to boil water from their taps before drinking it.
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said he’s hopeful the city can lift the advisory for all customers in the next week or so.
“It’s going to be very methodical, and it’s going to be very conservative,” he said in a phone interview, describing the process of lifting the advisory.
Repairs continue to the Columbia Canal, which the city uses to draw water into most of its system. The canal nearly ran dry after a breach during the floods. While the hole in the canal wall is repaired, city workers are also pumping water into the canal from the nearby Broad River.
The mayor said repairs are going well along the canal: “I believe we might be a little bit ahead of schedule right now.”
The boil water advisory for most of Columbia’s water customers will continue until the supply of water is stabilized and repairs are made.
Work also continues to repair 13 small bridges on Interstate 95 in Clarendon County. A 16-mile stretch remains closed where the major East Coast highway goes through lowlands and swamps and over the Black and Pocotaligo rivers.
The South Carolina Department of Transportation said it hopes to have I-95 reopened in a few days. Drivers on I-95 currently have to take a 168-mile detour through Columbia instead of the normal 74-mile drive from Interstate 26 to Interstate 20.
RETURNING TO NORMAL
Perhaps the biggest sign that the flooding and problems were winding down came when South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley did not talk to reporters for the first time in more than a week.
Schools are also starting again. The University of South Carolina will welcome students back Monday after an unscheduled week break.
A number of local school districts are also returning, although some are delaying the start of school by two hours so buses can travel their new routes in daylight. Hundreds of bridges and roads across the state remain closed from flood damage.
Also, the South Carolina Department of Transportation will start sending contractors out to clean up debris left at the side of the road Monday. Local governments are doing the same.
Nineteen people have died from flooding or weather-related traffic wrecks since the heavy rains started Oct. 2. Two more people died in North Carolina.
The latest deaths happened Thursday night in Horry County, where 27-year-old Shykimia Holman and 21-year-old Brianna Johnson died after the 2011 Honda they were in flipped into a water-filled ditch on state Highway 22 in Horry County. Both Orangeburg women drowned, authorities said.
All of the deaths in the storm happened in or near vehicles, officials said.
Organizers of the South Carolina State Fair said it should begin as normal Wednesday.
The fair brings thousands of people every day to Columbia, and authorities said law enforcement and infrastructure should be ready.
The University of South Carolina had to move Saturday’s football game against LSU to Louisiana because law enforcement said the officers needed for security and traffic control were too busy helping with the floods.
University athletic director Ray Tanner said Saturday that he is optimistic South Carolina will be able to host the next home game Saturday against Vanderbilt.
Heavy rain fell across much of South Carolina on Saturday, but officials didn’t report any major damage.
Most of the state got at least an inch of rain. Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem. But much of the rain turned into standing pools with the ground still saturated. In some areas, as much as 4 inches of water fell, causing road closures.
The forecast looks good for cleanup. Other than a small chance of light rain Tuesday, skies should be sunny all week across South Carolina.
Associated Press writer Jonathan Drew in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.