A Carolina Forest woman who was flooded out of her home in 2015 and 2016 sued Horry County Government on Friday, alleging in court records that county officials neglected to make drainage improvements that would have prevented damage to her house.
Leah Hornberger, who lives in the BelleGrove community, saw her house inundated with water in 2015. The same thing happened when Hurricane Matthew struck in 2016. When she confronted county stormwater staff about the problems, she was initially told that heavy rains simply overwhelmed the local drainage system. But after the second flood, county staff discovered problems in the network, including pipes that were too small and beaver dams blocking drains. After upgrading the infrastructure following Matthew, Hornberger’s home did not flood in Hurricane Florence last month.
“Clearly, it’s proof that whatever improvements you did make stopped the flooding,” she said. “Had you made them before Matthew like you said you were, we probably wouldn’t have flooded then because we’re dry now and the storm was far worse.”
Along with Hornberger, three other people are also listed as plaintiffs: David Campbell, Hornberger’s fiancé, and Bruce Stoughton and Donna Stoughton, Campbell’s parents and the home's owners.
The lawsuit states that county officials knew a nearby county road had not been properly constructed to prevent flooding in BelleGrove.
“County employees, including the director of Horry County’s Stormwater, Tom Garigen, admitted to local newspapers that the pipes were not big enough to take the waters that were never meant to go through the subdivision and that there were beaver dams blocking the flow of water near International Drive and Highway 22,” the lawsuit said. “Further, there were undersized pipes on River Oaks and International Drive along with the roads being below grade, all of which caused storm water to flood Plaintiffs’ house.”
The lawsuit accuses the county of being negligent and reckless by failing to maintain the proper infrastructure and not informing the plaintiffs that the drainage system was inadequate. The plaintiffs also accused the county of causing their home value to decline.
“That as a direct and proximate result, the Plaintiffs continued to suffer severe and catastrophic damage to their home and residence, including having floodwaters inside their homes on a regular basis, to include damage to floors, walls, insulation, baseboards, cabinetry, doors, electrical switches, air conditioning, heating, flooring, tile, and all other aspects of their home,” the lawsuit states. “That Plaintiffs have had damage to their personal property, which such personal property includes electronic items, clothing, furniture, kitchen utensils, towels, linens, bedding and lamps.”
County spokeswoman Kelly Moore declined to discuss the lawsuit, saying county officials typically don’t comment on pending litigation.
Before the lawsuit was filed, Garigen told myhorrynews.com that the infrastructure projects had been successful through Hurricane Florence and he had received some kind remarks from the residents in BelleGrove.
“It turned out to be a lot more complicated than we thought,” Garigen said. “It wasn’t just that we didn’t have big enough pipes coming out of the subdivision. We had beaver dams down on Highway 22. There were undersized pipes on International Drive. It was a combination of things. They were getting water that was never meant to go through that subdivision.”
For Hornberger, who fought to get the system improvements made, the timing of Hurricane Florence was a coincidence, but she said it validated her claims. After Hurricane Matthew, she put a sign in her front yard that said "Flood lives matter."
“This was your final exam,” she said of the county. “This was your capstone. And we’re dry.”