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  • Ian Livingston Brooking

CCU professor takes on massive role in bettering South Carolina

In three of the past four years, Horry and Georgetown counties have experienced some of the worst flooding in its history.

During the 2015 Flood in October, the Waccamaw River reached a crest of 16.2 feet, one of the highest it has ever been since the early 1900s. The following year, rainfall from Hurricane Matthew caused the Waccamaw River to break its crest record of 17.8 feet set back in 1928. Hurricane Matthew also forced students at Coastal Carolina to miss at least one week of classes in Fall 2016.

Then, last fall, the area was hit by one of the worst hurricanes to hit the state of South Carolina. Hurricane Florence tore through the Carolinas, breaking flood records, shutting down long stretches of major interstates and closing Coastal’s campus for at least three weeks.

To this day, there are still areas in Horry and Georgetown counties that are reeling from the floods that happened almost four years ago.

On Oct. 15, 2018, in an effort to better handle future flooding events, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster issued an executive order to create the South Carolina Flood Water Commission.

“The Commission shall identify short-term and long-term recommendations to alleviate and mitigate flood impacts to this State, with special emphasis on cities, communities and enterprises located on or near the coasts and rivers,” said McMaster in his executive order.

At the head of this commission is Thomas Mullikin, a research professor at Coastal Carolina University. Mullikin said South Carolina experiences natural disasters and extreme weather patterns in the most unique way possible.

“The challenge with South Carolina is that we have three separate and extreme [weather patterns],” said Mullikin. “We have coastal erosion and hurricanes coming off the coast. We have nuisance flooding, which is primarily a sea level issue. And then we also are the benefactor of having water coming down from the North Carolina watershed, which typically arises from storms coming from the Gulf.”

Mullikin says that task forces have been set up to address each of these extreme weather concerns. Mullikin also addressed that this commission came to be after many state officials realized how difficult these events have been to recover from.

“I think that the governor recognized that this is a tremendous challenge for this state,” said Mullikin. “We have had economic loss, loss of life, loss of personal property and where we haven’t had loss of life, we have had major inconveniences in getting people back into their homes.”

Mullikin says that what South Carolinians have experienced in the past five years appears to be becoming the new normal and he hopes that the South Carolina Flood Water Commission can help create strategies that stops South Carolina residents from dealing with flooding issues.

The 2019 hurricane season will begin on June 1, 2019 and Mullikin says that the South Carolina Flood Water Commission is focusing on bettering tourist areas that suffer from the damages that come from weather events.

“Horry County will be a major beneficiary of [the South Carolina Flood Water Commission’s] efforts,” said Mullikin. “The efforts will certainly involve all 46 counties in the state of South Carolina but the coastline has been the area that has been hit the hardest. Tourism is a huge economic sector. We are going to define ways to move water through our river systems and into the oceans and also find ways to protect our families that live along the coast.”

Mullikin is not the only member of Coastal Carolina University on the South Carolina Flood Water Commission. Dr. Paul Gayes, Dr. Richard Viso and Dr. Leonard Pietrefesa, Till Hanebuth and Rick Peterson are all on the South Carolina Flood Water Commission. Coastal Carolina University President Dr. David DeCenzo talked about what it is like to have Coastal Carolina faculty members on a commission that is beneficial to the very area that Coastal Carolina is a part of.

“Tom Mullikin has worn many hats in this state and every one of them that he has worn has been to help make this state a better place,” said DeCenzo. “I am excited for him and for all on board. I am excited that Coastal Carolina University is leading the committee. I think it goes to show in our marine science program is something that is very valuable to this state.”

For many who evacuated during Hurricane Florence, whether they were a member of the Coastal Carolina community or a resident of Horry and Georgetown County, it was difficult to watch the images that came in during the aftermath of the storm. Images of the Waccamaw River rising to levels that local meteorologists have never seen before, the Conway Riverwalk completely underwater, and piers being torn apart by floodwaters and winds.

Mullikin talked about how the mayors and respective officials of the cities within Horry and Georgetown counties have been helping with the South Carolina Flood Water Commission.

“They have been a tremendous resource,” said Mullikin. “The first thing they offer is uncensored commentary on what they are dealing with. We need feedback.”

The second quarter meeting of the South Carolina Flood Water Commission is going to happen on Saturday, June 15 in Marion County, one of the counties that has been hit the hardest by the rain over the past four years.

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