More than five years after a severe storm inundated the area with flooding, Richland County is putting a cap on the first major federal disaster assistance buyout program in its history, but the work to rebuild continues.
Through a property buyout program and a massive home renovation and replacement effort, the County has worked steadily to help residents recover.
Richland County used funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Grant Program to buy properties affected by the October 2015 weather event. Residents could qualify for the voluntary program if their homes were in a designated flood plain and were substantially damaged by flooding.
Since August 2018, the County has worked with property owners to acquire and demolish 57 such properties, the majority of those in the Gills Creek and Denny Terrace areas of Columbia. Many of the homes remained vacant after the flood. The land on those properties can now be returned to its natural state to mitigate future flooding issues.
“While it is certainly a relief to have the buyouts and demolitions completed, what is most satisfying to our team is being able to provide relief, support, comfort and assistance to our residents who suffered unimaginable loss due to the flood event,” said Mike King, Richland County’s local disaster recovery manager. “We hope our efforts helped them, in a small way, return to a normal life.”
The County can now focus on rebuilding and repairing homes through the federal Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program, which helps low- to moderate-income families who were living in owner-occupied homes during the flood.
With crews set to demolish the last of the eligible properties last month, Richland County faced a challenge: The final properties on the list were townhomes. While some property owners chose to participate in the program, others did not.
“The FEMA property buyout program is strictly voluntary,” King said. “While initially all owners of the five independent yet attached townhomes agreed to allow the County to purchase (the properties), two of the owners withdrew from the program.
“The program requires that all purchased properties be demolished and the land returned to a naturalized state, therein creating the challenge for us,” King said.
County crews were able to carefully complete the demolition so as to not disturb the remaining townhomes. Exterior walls were built for the two privately owned townhomes that still stand.
Richland County is now completing the formal closeout process for the buyout program with the S.C. Emergency Management Division and FEMA.
The County continues to replace and repair other homes that were damaged by the 2015 storm. Improvements to existing homes have included 375 home repairs, mobile home unit replacements and complete home rebuilds.
• 81 homes have been repaired, 31 homes rebuilt and 56 mobile homes replaced using CDBG-DR grants, which are administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
• More than 200 homes were repaired using volunteer labor facilitated by the Midlands Flood Recovery Group, a cluster of volunteer organizations.
A retrospective video detailing the impact of the 2015 flood and Richland County’s response is online. “Remembering the 2015 Flood: Five Years Later” features County Council Chair Paul Livingston and other County staff.
Find it on the County’s YouTube page: www.youtube.com/RichlandOnline.