5 Years Later: Flood prevention activist looks back on Hurricane Florence’s ‘catastrophic flooding’

Published: Sep. 13, 2023 at 11:01 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 14, 2023 at 10:27 AM EDT
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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - September 14 marks five years since Hurricane Florence made landfall over the Carolinas, bringing with it record rainfall and flooding.

WMBF News went back to one neighborhood in Conway where nearly every home was impacted following the storm, forcing many to evacuate for a week while their homes sat underwater.

“I pretty much knew based on the rainfall forecast it was going to be a catastrophic flood,” said April O’Leary.

April O’Leary was one of thousands to watch her home be overtaken by the flood waters brought on by Hurricane Florence in 2018 for weeks after the storm.

For many, the only way they could check on their homes was by a paddle boat.

Ariel footage shows damage in Horry County from Hurricane Florence
Ariel footage shows damage in Horry County from Hurricane Florence(WMBF News)

“I would be the only one back here at times paddling and sending pictures letting people know how high the water,” said O’Leary.

It would take months for the community to return back to a sense of normalcy and for some homeowners whose property was beyond repair, it never did.

“When the water receded that was when it was just devastating,” said O’Leary.

Since the storm, O’Leary created Horry County Rising, a nonprofit organization focused on addressing flooding issues across the state like protecting wetlands from overdevelopment.

She said the motivation to become an advocate for those impacted by the flood was sparked when she was finally able to return back to her home and had watched many of her neighbors start over, unsure of what to do next.

“The grief was almost unbearable and I knew the only way I could get through that is to turn it into something positive,” said O’Leary.

Nearly five years later she feels Horry County is in a better place than before Hurricane Florence but knows there’s more work to be done.

“This is something we need to work on all the time regardless of when our last flooding event was and that’s what Horry County Rising hopes to continue to do,” said O’Leary.

Since 2018, many homeowners in Horry County either chose to stay and rebuild or use the county’s federal buyout programs.

A spokesperson for Horry County said over 40 homeowners have gone through the buyout program process so far, with more homes in the queue.

Most of the buyouts are funded through the South Carolina Office of Resilience Disaster Recovery program and a few others from local funds.