By Sarita Chourey –
The head of the S.C. National Guard says the cost to rebuild the state’s devastated roadways after the floods could reach the hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions of dollars. The daily cost to activate about 1,300 National guardsmen and various aircraft is reaching about $400,000-$500,000 per day, said Adjutant General Bob Livingston in a telephone interview Monday. He said six or seven helicopters are doing aerial reconnaissance and slightly fewer are doing search and rescue missions.
A handful of other agencies, including public safety, transportation, law enforcement and natural resources totaled about 1,500. “It has washed out so much infrastructure,” said Livingston. “We don’t know what we don’t know right now. But to build a section of road you’re talking $100 million, and I’ve seen sections of road just gone.” The eastern part of Aiken County, including Monetta, New Holland, Wagener, Perry and Salley areas, were among the worst affected parts of the county, said Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, whose District 86 includes the area. Statewide, weather-created drownings and traffic accidents have reportedly claimed nine lives. Livingston said Aiken officials haven’t made any significant requests from the state to reinforce local efforts.
He said the rain band “kind of brushed Aiken.” Still, he said the Savannah River area is still being watched. “It doesn’t mean they haven’t had some local flooding or we’re not concerned about what’s going on with the Savannah River, but we haven’t heard as many calls,” he said. On Sunday Taylor spent nine hours at the county’s Emergency Operations Center and was joined by his wife. The lawmaker said the center directed residents reporting dam dangers and road problems to call a 211 number, allowing them to free up the 911 line for life-or-death emergencies. He praised the work of Aiken County Emergency Manager Paul Matthews. “When I got there, he was out personally surveying the damage,” said Taylor. “They were definitely on top of everything.”
The National Guard is working in about half of the state’s counties, and Aiken County is not among them. On Monday afternoon, Matthews said his most recent check found less than 20 power outages, and only New Holland was under a boil-water advisory, affecting about 200 people. As for the competence of the state-level response, Taylor said what he saw seemed effective. “I have to assume they have all the same kinds of players in that room on the state level,” he said. And from what Matthews could gather, state leaders have done an “excellent job.”
But Rep. Chris Corley, R-Graniteville, said Gov. Nikki Haley should have deployed the National Guard sooner. “She was front and center with her little rain coat on to do a press conference, because that’s what she is about about, doing press conferences,” said the first-term lawmaker and attorney. Corley said the guard should have been in place on Saturday instead of being fully activated the next morning. He was one of the governor’s sharpest critics after her decision to call for the Confederate flag’s removal from the S.C. Statehouse grounds this year. As for Corley’s criticism of Haley, the governor’s office deferred comment to the Adjutant General. “In my opinion, she has done a fantastic job, really pushed us to get out in front,” Livingston said Monday. The Adjutant General, a Republican, ran unopposed in both 2010 and 2014, and owns Gregory Electric Company, which provide commercial and industrial electrical, utility and telecommunications services with operations in nine states.