Members of the South Carolina National Guard have been working around the clock to help the state Department of Transportation protect potentially the only western route into the Myrtle Beach region if floodwaters reach predicted levels.
“Team South Carolina is fully engaged and we’re trying to protect as much of the both public and private property as we can,” Lt. Col. Bill Matheny, Commander of the 122nd Engineer Battalion out of Edgefield, said. “And we’re working as fast as we can.”
Two engineer battalions are helping to build barriers that are meant to keep floodwaters of the Waccamaw River from overtopping and shutting down U.S. Highway 501 Bypass outside Conway. SCDOT is working to preserve the route, as it fears all other major highways could be covered by floodwaters by Friday.
Officials hoped to finish their work by Wednesday afternoon but the target time was moved to Friday.
Although Hurricane Florence has passed through the state and evacuation orders for South Carolina’s northeast coast have been lifted, the state is bracing for flooding that will occur along rivers in the Pee Dee region, particularly the Little Pee Dee, Lumber and Waccamaw rivers.
“We’re using sand barriers to stop the floodwaters and what that looks like is a 4-by-4 basket that we’re filling up with earth and we’re wrapping it in plastic wrap,” Matheny said. “That will help prevent the floodwaters from cutting off this critical artery from Conway to Myrtle Beach.”
A similar structure is being built to keep the U.S. Highway 378 bridge open over the Lynches River near Lake City.
The 124th Construction Company out of Saluda provided horizontal earthwork equipment and staff necessary to run it. A bridge company was assigned to help Santee Cooper protect its Conway steam plant from flooding.
But as work continues on these projects, the National Guard constantly is looking ahead and planning for its next mission.
“We’re already trying to figure out where we relocate to as the floodwaters come through that puts us in a better position to react to whatever the next phase is,” Matheny said. “If there’s extensive damage in or around the Conway area or something further to the south along the flood basin it puts us in a better position to be flexible and react to what the state leadership needs.”
Matheny said the two battalions have been working around the clock but the cooler overnight temperatures are more comfortable than the brutal heat of the day shift.
“Trying to keep my soldiers safe and hydrated,” he said. “We did have a couple of heat casualties (Monday). Had to put them in the aid stations and give them IV’s but we had all of them return to duty. We’re staying in shape as we can but we’re maximizing our efforts so we can keep the citizens safe.”