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Sunday, December 11, 2016

By Colleen Jenkins

(Reuters) – South Carolina grappled with the damage wrought by record rainfall, as the death toll from widespread flooding rose to 14 on Tuesday and residents braced for more evacuations in areas near swollen waterways and dams across the state.

Predictions of sunny skies in coming days provided only small comfort. More than 800 people were living in shelters after floodwater forced them from their homes, and officials said new evacuations were likely as several rivers remained above flood stage and dams were being monitored for breaches.

“We are still in the mode that the next 36 to 48 hours will be volatile,” Governor Nikki Haley told a news conference. “Don’t let the sunshine fool you.”

Officials said about 300 state-maintained roads and 160 bridges remained closed. Haley stressed the need for motorists to mind police barricades on flooded roads after reports of people moving the barricades or driving around them.

The governor said she could not yet estimate the cost of the devastation but noted “the damage is going to be heartbreaking for a lot of people.”

More than 2 feet (60 cm) of rain have fallen since Friday in parts of South Carolina, which avoided a hit from Hurricane Joaquin but experienced historic rainfall and flooding due to a combination of weather conditions mostly unrelated to that storm.

Of the 14 people who died, eight drowned and six were killed in weather-related car crashes, the state Department of Public Safety said. The extended rainstorm also was blamed for two deaths in North Carolina.

In the South Carolina capital of Columbia, which experienced its wettest days on record over the weekend, the University of South Carolina announced it was cancelling classes through Friday due to the flooding.

Though floodwater was receding in some places, officials warned people to remain vigilant. Early Tuesday, emergency responders in Orangeburg County pulled three people to safety in a boat after they were surrounded by rushing water from the North Edisto River, the State newspaper reported.

The highest recorded amount of rain in South Carolina was 26.8 inches (68 cm), which fell over several days in an area just east of Charleston, National Weather Service meteorologist Carl Barnes said.

On Tuesday, Barnes said brighter days were ahead.

“The worst has passed us, in terms of rainfall,” he said. “We’ll definitely have sun and some very welcome drying out for the rest of the week.”

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Bill Trott and Eric Beech)