The number of people killed in South Carolina in the wake of Hurricane Joaquin climbed to nine yesterday. Five people drowned, and the other four deaths were traffic-related, officials said.

By yesterday afternoon, after record rains fell on already water-soaked soil, floodwaters had breached at least eight dams statewide, according to the South Carolina Emergency Management Division.

Coffins floated out of their gravesites in South Carolina over the weekend, and residents abandoned their cars for higher ground, awash in shoulder-high depths.

Gov. Nikki Haley said about 550 roads and bridges are closed in the state, the results of 2 feet of rain in two days.

“I can’t stress enough that this is not a fun event,” Haley said at a press conference yesterday morning, flanked by state and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials. “The worst isn’t over.”

Haley said the South Carolina government had made a verbal request to the federal government for disaster relief, an action that she said should speed up the cleanup process.

“I have never seen rainfall this instance, in this large of an area and during this short a period in absence of direct impact from a tropical storm or hurricane,” Elliot Abrams, chief meteorologist for AccuWeather, said in a statement.

A high-pressure system in Canada and a storm separate from Hurricane Joaquin combined to make South Carolina, and northeastern Georgia and southeastern North Carolina, the epicenter for the most punishing precipitation.

Rainfall levels not seen in over a generation
The vast majority of South Carolina experienced between a 1-in-50-years and a 1-in-200-years weather event in the last three days, according to AccuWeather, and some locations saw 1-in-1,000-years events.

Sustained winds from Hurricane Joaquin fell to 85 mph, and the storm is weakening, the National Weather Service said yesterday afternoon. There aren’t any active storm watches or warnings for Joaquin.

Swells will continue to pound the Bahamas and Bermuda and build into “life-threatening surf and rip current conditions,” the agency said.

“As we continue to recover from the catastrophic damage caused to our state, we will see many neighbors helping each other rebuild,” South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said in a statement. “However, we may also see some looking to unfairly take advantage of the situation through price gouging of food, gasoline, lodging, water and any other commodities.”

Wilson’s office urged citizens to report any suspicious price hikes.

Coast Guard officials said yesterday the cargo ship El Faro, which had been caught in Joaquin’s path since last week, is believed to have sunk. The search for survivors of the ship’s 33-person crew will continue, focusing exclusively on people in the ocean.

“We’re not looking for the vessel any longer,” Coast Guard Capt. Mike Fedor said. Rescue crews found a lifeboat with “markings consistent” to those from El Faro, as well as life jackets, shipping containers and an oily sheen on the ocean surface.

To the south, following intense rainfall separate from the Joaquin system, a mudslide in a working-class Guatemalan neighborhood had killed at least 131 as of Sunday, though officials estimated that about 300 residents of Santa Catarina Pinula were missing.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500