Hurricane Florence six months later: Nichols native brings spark back to town hammered by Florence

Hurricane Florence six months later: Nichols native brings spark back to town hammered by Florence
Here's an aerial shot of Nichols, SC, showing flood waters left by Hurricane Florence.

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WIS) - Six months after suffering catastrophic flooding at the hands of Hurricane Florence, the small town of Nichols if fighting to stay alive.

In 2016, the town was home to more than 400 residents and a couple hundred homes. When Hurricane Matthew caused historic flooding, many residents did not return.

"It came up higher and faster on Little Pee Dee side than on the Lumber Riverside than it did in Matthew," Mayor Lawson Battle said. "It was six to 12 inches higher in parts of town than Matthew."

When Florence hit in September 2018, many residents had just moved back into their newly restored homes, Battle said. Many of those same homes were destroyed as the town sat under six feet of water for weeks.

"The second time, it’s even a worse nightmare," he said. "People are getting their hopes up, building back, getting back to a sense of normal, and it happens again. It's just devastating for your town and for your citizens even for myself."

Battle said following Hurricane Matthew, the town received federal dollars for a hydraulics study, helping area officials determine the best way to mitigate the chance of another major flood event. As bids were going out, Florence hit.

"I'm very proud of the citizens, as much as they’ve been through they are working hard to get back in," Battle said. "Of course, some won’t come back. We had about 22 businesses before Matthew, we had about 14 or 15 of those back before Florence and we’ve got 10 back open and a new one that’s investing in Nichols that’s doing really well."

The Grey Nickel Boutique is the newest business in Nichols, just down the road from a downtown that sits vacant and desolate. Its owner, Savannah Tiller, is a native of Nichols. She opened her clothing and jewelry store near the beach but made the decision to move it home after the flood was over.

"The decision to come back was mainly on the flood and trying to rebuild Nichols to get people to move back," she said. "I just think it was a good decision and I think it’s helping people out giving people a place to shop around here."

Tiller said she's accepted the risk of moving back--both the chance of another flood and less foot traffic.

"It’s my hometown for one, and for two, it’s helping people out in the community," she said. "The clientele is familiar and I just think it’s well for Nichols."

Mayor Battle said, while a lot of debris has been cleaned up in the six months since Florence hit, a lot of work remains.

"For me personally, it's a constant worry," Battle said. "There's been a lot of sleepless nights but you still have to keep on going and think positive."

Battle said the town continues to try to find money to keep operating.

“It’s a very hard sell, especially when it happens twice,” he said.

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