West Columbia, SC (Paul Kirby) – Swift Water Rescue teams from both sides of the Congaree River had to rescue a large number of people from the water and rocks after the water rose quickly Saturday afternoon. Some said the water came up more than a foot in a short amount of time as people were enjoying recreating on the river in the middle of a nice summer afternoon.
The usual culprit of this type situation is the Lower Saluda River however, lots of the people who were rescued are saying that the flash flooding came from the Broad River. The Broad and Lower Saluda come together in Columbia to form the Congaree.
Apparently, the waters of the Broad River rose quickly after a flooding alert had been issued for it. The Broad comes from the upstate and runs through the Parr Shoals Reservoir and over the Parr Shoals Dam before continuing on to Columbia. Parr Shoals' lake, located near Pomaria, SC, is mainly used as a holding pond of sorts. Water is pulled in and out and used to cool the turbines of a nearby V.C. Summer nuclear power plant that now belongs to Dominion Energy.
The raising of the Lower Saluda also has an immediate effect on the Congaree River’s speed and depth as well. Its rise has trapped many an inattentive tuber or swimmer before. In the case of Saturday's rise, one person who witnessed the firefighters working estimated that several hundred rescues were made as a result of the quick rise in water levels.
A significant change in the water level this quickly usually indicates that Dominion Energy, the company that owns Lake Murray and the two power plants below its dam, is flowing water through its Saluda River Hydro plant. Before they flow water through this plant, Dominion has a notification procedure that includes loud sound devices and red lights that flash in some of the most popular recreational areas of the river. The public can even sign up for a service that texts their phones when a water rise is imminent. You can also check the current condition of the river and sign up for text alerts on Dominion’s webpage at www.dominionenergy.com/lakes-and-recreation/lower-saluda-river-sc.
According to some of the people that were rescued, they never heard any sirens or saw any lights flashing before the sudden rise. This adds credibility to the theory that the flooding in the Broad was the culprit that put so many at risk.
The water began to rise between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m. Saturday. Almost immediately, some of the people that were on the water began to get in trouble. The West Columbia Fire Department was the first Swift Water Team to be notified on the Lexington County side of the river. They responded to the Alexander Street area where the City of West Columbia’s amphitheater is located. Eventually other emergency units were stationed on the Jarvis Klapman Bridge as the swift current pushed people down river on tubes, kayaks, and rafts. That individual was immediately giving updates by radio regarding what type of floatable device was coming next, about where on the river it was, and how many people were onboard.
The West Columbia firefighters understood the gravity of the situation once they arrived and quickly requested Lexington County respond and assist with their Swift Water Team and boat. The City of Columbia Fire Department was already working from their side of the river too. At some point, the SCDNR was also on the river trying to make sure that people either got out where they were or were safely taken down the river where the firefighters were grabbing people and helping them to the river’s bank by the dozens. At the height of the rescue, there were a large number of specially equipped boats on the river being operated by trained personnel.
Some people argued with rescuers that they were safe and didn’t want any assistance even after they were warned their lives might be in danger. Law enforcement officers from the SCDNR were dealing with them as the firefighters stayed busy helping people get to the banks without anyone being injured.
The operation continued for some time. No one has said if anyone was hurt as a result of the fast water. If anyone was, it doesn’t appear as if they were seriously injured.