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Pireway residents dig out from sand, mud and destruction

Posted on: 10.11.2018 at 11:00 a.m.

By Jefferson Weaver

jeffersonweaver@nrcolumbus.com

The water came late to Pireway after Hurricane Florence, but it came with a vengeance.

“When I looked outside Sunday night (Sept. 16), I knew it was going to be bad,” said Tommy Hobbs. “I knew it was trouble, trouble, trouble.”

The Waccamaw River rose past the eight-to-twelve foot banks along River Road after inundating communities upstream Sept. 15-16. The floodwaters then spread across the banks, blasting massive holes in the only road in and out of the community, and sending as much as five feet of water through some homes already raised after Hurricane Matthew.

“I had 12 to 16 inches in our place during Hurricane Matthew,” said James Sarvis. “This was nothing like Matthew.

“We got everything up as high as we could, and then got some of it a little higher. It still got us badly.”

Pireway is no stranger to flooding. Most of the 60-plus properties along River Road are raised to some extent, and some were lifted higher after Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Other homeowners simply prepare by evacuating and securing their property, then coming back to clean up. The community has retirees and working families, as well as weekend cabins for hunters and anglers from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Montana and other states.

Virtually every home along the road sustained severe damage. Florence caused even more damage than Matthew, Hobbs said, most of it from water.

“I came down here that night,” he said, and had to take my pontoon boat. I drove it over my wooden fence — didn’t touch it — and all around my house. I have never seen anything like it.”

The water carried trash, grills, appliances, signs, boats and sand into the neighboring swamp. Several feet of sand were deposited on a cleared lot beside Sarvis’ home.

Even without the sand, the saturated ground is still slowing recovery efforts.

“There was one hole in the road that could have swallowed two trucks,” Hobbs said. “It was that deep.”

“We put a two-inch pump on it for three hours before we could get the water out enough to start filling it with dirt,” Sarvis said, “and you had to work fast, or the water would seep back in.”

Hobbs said he initially treated the storm like Matthew and other floods.

“We moved everything to higher ground,” he said. “Put all my equipment up where I thought it would be safe. Well, that didn’t work — my excavator was flooded almost to the roof.”

Despite the hundreds of thousands in property damage to the community, Sarvis said River Road residents are not giving up. Some have even managed to find a little humor in the circumstances.

“I have a dock down river somewhere,” Hobbs laughed. “When it floated away, it sat up just as straight and pretty as you could ask. The chairs stayed upright.

“My wife put some of those solar lights on it, and they came on just as pretty as you please. They’re still lighting up — my dock’s about a mile downriver, but you can see it at night.”

Sarvis — who serves on the Soil and Water Conservation Board — said efforts to get the state to take over River Road have been fruitless, due to the wetlands on the side of the road opposite the river. Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) representatives have been by to evaluate the damage, Sarvis said, but he’s still waiting on a decision from FEMA.

“We’re supposed to be paid a fee by every landowner, and if they would pay it, we could make some improvements to the road,” he said. “But that doesn’t always happen. If it weren’t for Tommy volunteering to do this, the road would be shut down.”

A major problem, Sarvis said, is that the state will not take control of River Road.

“They’ll come partway down,” he said, “but that’s all.”  

Sarvis and Hobbs said they had never seen a fish kill like the die-off following Florence.

“There must have been thousands of them,” Hobbs said. “Bream, bass, you name it. Some nice ones, too. It’s going to take the river a while to recover from this.”

Hobbs, who has seven children and numerous grandchildren, said he has been photographing everything he could of the storm, so his family will have evidence of what the hurricane did to Pireway.

“This is historic,” he said. “I doubt I’ll see something like this in my lifetime again. I doubt they will. I want them to remember.”

Both men said that despite some close calls, they were grateful that there were no serious injuries during the storm.

“All my family is safe and sound, and have roofs over their heads,” Hobbs said. “That’s what’s most important. We can replace buildings and equipment.”

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