The Red Cross and National Guard may no longer be on the streets of Richland County, but that doesn't mean recovery from the devastating 2015 flood is over. In fact, hundreds of people are still out of their homes in the county according to Mike King, Richland County's Long-Term Disaster Recovery Chief. He says there’s been a lot of progress in recovery, but there's still a long way to go.
Since October of last year, Richland County has worked with non-profits in the Midlands Flood Recovery Group to help 151 people get back in their homes, according to King. The county has also helped secure $23.5 million in federal funding for flood recovery. U.S. Housing and Urban Development awarded South Carolina $157 million dollars in March of last year.
King says the application for federal funding needed an outline of how the funds would be used, which included "mobile home replacement, single family rehab/rebuild, business development through small business loans, major infrastructure, which is culverts, bridges."
While funding for these projects is a major step, any one of them will take months or years to execute. The county also hasn't yet received funding for home buyouts, which would come from the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). A buy-out is when the government purchases a home at pre-flood value that sits in a floodplain. That plot of land would then be kept as green space.
King says, much like home rebuilds or culvert repairs, buy-outs will take time and legwork, "We know there are sixty-three homes that people can't live in, that are abandoned... that we need to get bought, cleared, and get those folks economic freedom so they can go do something else."
King says the biggest impediment to progress continues to be money -- that there just is not enough to cover every unmet need county-wide. He says, "I wish we could say we could help absolutely everybody. No, we're not -- not with this money."
King estimates the total unmet need in Richland County is $250 million, while their federal funding is at only $23.5 million, or 10%. The disaster recovery group has requested additional federal funding from U.S. Senator's Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott with a clear outline of how they would use it. King says they are asking for $57.5 million.
With infrastructure work, home rehabilitations/rebuilds, buy-outs, and small business economic development, King estimates full recovery will take another three to four years.
Dr. Susan Cutter, a professor at the University of South Carolina, is an expert in disaster recovery and mitigation at the University. She says Richland is right on track with its recovery, adding it always takes longer than people think.
Cutter says, "It just takes time for that money to be allocated, takes time to do planning that's necessary, and for those funds to actually reach back to the state."
While Cutter says a slow pace of recovery is normal, that doesn't make survivors living in a dilapidated or mold-infested home any easier, "Fifteen months is not a long period of time in terms of funds coming back -- it's a horrible length of time for families who've been displaced."
Richland County’s Mike King says, “What we need to do is continue, continue, continue, continue."