Until Hurricane Florence, Willie Aklin had never seen a major flood in his Bucksport neighborhood. He's lived there 40 years.
Florence left two feet of water beneath his home. For others in the community, it was much worse.
Aklin shared his story Thursday at Bucksport's James R. Frazier Community Center, the site of the last of three public meetings held this week as Horry County officials work with a team of consultants to develop a flood resilience plan.
In addition to Bucksport, parts of the county such as Socastee, Longs and Conway saw massive inundation last year because of Florence.
Many flood victims are frustrated, particularly those whose homes flooded during storms in 2015 and 2016.
In Bucksport, streets like Bucksport Road and Martin Luther Drive saw flooding about a year ago, as the Waccamaw River in the community reached a record peak.
“None of these community meetings have been easy,” said Courtney Frappaolo, Horry County's director of community development. “They have included an emotional response from people who are still in that process of recovering. That’s why we’re here.”
During Thursday’s meeting, area residents and other attendees were given surveys and could share information, including details about damages and where flooding took place.
The county and the consultant team will use this information as they work to create a list of policy and project proposals. More public input will be collected early next year, and those ideas can be examined further. Officials hope to have a plan completed by March.
“The people who are sticking it out, even though they're frustrated and they're going through the process, I think are getting an understanding of where we’re trying to go and how this process can help in the long run,” Frappaolo said. “I think that people understand we’re not here for the short-term recovery solution, we’re here to become more resilient.”
In coming up with the flood resilience plan, Frappaolo highlighted the importance of knowing which steps to take on a community-by-community basis.
“A community in Socastee is more developed and a more urban environment than a Bucksport community,” she said. “They will have different priorities and different desires. One may say, ‘Raise my house up so I can stay here.’ Another might say, ‘Buy me out. I don't want to stay here.’ We need to have those conversations with the neighborhoods on this level so when we’re talking to the federal funders, we know what to ask for and what money to grab for which communities.”
The team of consultants has scientists, engineers, planners and architects. Tom Jost with Sherwood Design Engineers is leading the group as project manager. He emphasized it is key for a locale's residents to agree on what should be done.
“If you’re going to have success, you do need the community to come together,” he said. “If the community isn’t in agreement and you want to do something and no one thinks it’s the right idea, it’s very hard to make it happen.”
Information on the flood resilience plan itself was presented, and discussion took place in different breakout groups.
Topics discussed by residents included improving the community’s drainage system, the importance of evacuation as floodwaters were parked on the area for several days, and flood insurance. A community activist in Horry County, Cedric Blain-Spain, even challenged the intentions of those developing the plan.
"Are you authentic?" he said.
Also, some Bucksport residents maintained that they don’t wish to leave the area.
“There are people born and raised here who have lived here all their life," Aklin said, "and they don't know anywhere but here."
Jost said the consultants are looking to provide knowledge they’ve gained through improving resilience in other communities.
Horry County differs from New York City, he said, where the Hudson River, a large watershed, does not flood the way the Pee Dee or Waccamaw rivers do.
“You have a very unique challenge that you have a low-lying area that can flood just when you get rain itself,” he said. “But you’re also capturing rainwater from other places. So even though you’ve got a huge watershed, it still has capacity issues.”
Also, he added, the county is flat, and can see water travel great distances and compound flooding issues. Houston, Texas, is another flat area, he said, but it has “an extensive bayou system that can kind of contain all that water.”
“What we’re worried about is that the water will move slowly out of this community and then if you have a surge condition, then that’s going to slow down the water even more,” Jost said. "We really have to look at how big that watershed is, and where we can find ways to store water.”
County officials reported solid turnout for all three meetings, which began Tuesday in Socastee and continued Wednesday in Little River. Frappaolo said there are many locals who have been in touch with county staff.
“I go and I listen to these discussions, and people know exactly where the pipe is. They know how the system works. … All of the neighborhoods have been really informed about how stormwater and flooding affect their community, which just makes for a better dialogue.”
Said Jost: “We saw a lot of attendance, people who really want to know what to do and they're together I think it terms of backing each other up. They've been tremendously beneficial for us.”