Main Street flooding drone pic

Main Street in Conway, looking towards downtown Conway, after the Waccamaw River and Crabtree Swamp flooded the area in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. 

Conway was recently allotted an additional $500,000 for its flood buyout program, which might allow for some Hurricane Florence victims to sell their homes within months rather than years of their damage, according to the city’s flood consultant Jeffrey Ward.

City of Conway spokesperson Taylor Newell says the numbers are mounting for Conwayites who want to share the $11.13 million that’s now available.

Hurricane Matthew’s 58 flood victims were hesitant to sign up for the buyout until many of them were hit again with flooding from Hurricane Florence. Early on only 16 had agreed to the buyout, but earlier this week that number had increased to 43 who want to move forward, according to Newell.

Thirty-two more homeowners have also expressed interest in being listed as alternates in case there is money left over after those already eligible receive their payments.

Ward says now that people who did not flood in Hurricane Matthew, but did flood in Hurricane Florence are eligible for the buyout, not only those who are in a designated floodplain, but possibly also those who are being targeted for placement in a flood zone.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) came out several years ago with a new flood map that has not become official yet, even though Conway City Council has approved the new map.

Ward is making his second trip to Conway Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in McCown Auditorium at 805 Main St. Ward says anyone who has suffered flooding and is in a flood zone or the preliminary flood zone should attend the meeting when he will explain the flood buyout.

City numbers say 163 homes and businesses located in a flood zone were damaged. There are an additional 225 homes and businesses that were damaged, but are not now in a flood plain, but they are in the preliminary flood zone, poised to be designated a flood zone.

Ward points out that there are people who were damaged in Hurricane Matthew who did not have flood insurance; however, they did have it when they were damaged a second time in Hurricane Florence.

Because the amount of an insurance payout is subtracted from the appraised value of a home or business, he reasons that less money than first thought will be needed for Matthew buyouts, leaving more money to be spread among more flood victims. 

The agency’s offer of 75 percent of the property’s appraised value is the same for everyone impacted by Hurricane Matthew, even though they were each placed in one of three tiers based on the severity of their damage.

People who have flood insurance will deduct their coverage amount from their appraisal before figuring the 75 percent. Each seller was required to pay $2,000, which included the cost of an appraisal, attorney’s closing fees and demolition fees.

The city hired Thompson’s Appraisals to evaluate the properties. The value of the property is based on the property’s value the day before the damaging storm hit. 

Even though FEMA is providing the buyout money, it is the City of Conway that will actually own the property. 

After the homes and businesses are gone from the property, the cleared land must stay that way forever. The City can use it for some things, but no kind of impervious surface can ever be put there.

Ward said it is possible for neighbors or homeowner associations to lease and use some of the vacant property as long as they don’t put down any impervious surfaces.

At the meeting with Matthew victims, Ward said he couldn’t tell the property owners what to do, but he advised the group to sell their homes or businesses and move on.

“I’m truly going to give you the best advice I can. Flooding is getting worse, rain is getting heavier and water totals are getting higher every year,” he said.

Ward, who helps with buyouts all over the country, pointed to Alvin, Texas, to make his case. Several years back, he said, many of that city’s residents were flooded by 36 inches of rain that fell in 24 hours.

“That’s a crazy amount of rain,” he said.

But later the same city got 56 inches of rain.

“It’s getting worse every year…This is an opportunity to hear the offers and get out of harm’s way,” he said.

He said rain is getting heavier and storms are moving slower so there’s more water to fight.

“If you don’t take this opportunity real serious, I think that would be a mistake…You can’t predict what Mother Nature is going to do. It’s getting ugly,” he said.

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I'm the editor of the Horry Independent, a weekly newspaper in Conway, South Carolina. I cover city hall and courts, among many other subjects. Know of a good story? Call me at 843-488-7241.

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