South Carolina hit by torrential rainfall; seven dead

By Harriet McLeod CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - Torrential rainfall that South Carolina's governor called a once-in-a-millennium downpour flooded the southeastern U.S. state on Sunday, causing at least seven deaths in the Carolinas. The storm had dumped more than 18 inches (45 cm) of rain in parts of central South Carolina by early Sunday. The state climatologist forecast another 2 to 6 inches (5 to 15 cm) through Monday as the rainfall began to slacken. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said parts of the state were hit with rainfall that would be expected to occur once in 1,000 years, with the Congaree River running at its highest level since 1936. "Our goal is all hands on deck. If you are in your house, stay in your house," Haley told a news conference. "This is not something to be out taking pictures of." Five weather-related deaths were reported in South Carolina, three of them from traffic accidents. Officials reported another two deaths in North Carolina. Overnight rains flooded highways along the South Carolina coast between Charleston and Georgetown, the National Weather Service said. Georgetown, population 9,000, was mostly under water, and the four major highways leading into it were closed. "We have every ambulance in the county out responding to calls. People are being moved from their homes in boats," Georgetown County spokeswoman Jackie Broach said. Inland flooding also hit the state capital, Columbia, where the Congaree rose 10 feet (3 m) in 12 hours, according to local officials. Columbia posted a record 8.7 inches (22 cm) of rain in 24 hours ending Sunday afternoon, the weather service said. State emergency officials urged residents not to travel due to unsafe roads, and curfews were imposed in several places, including Columbia. Schools and universities canceled classes on Monday. A 70-mile (112-km) stretch of Interstate 95, a major East Coast highway, was closed because of high water. Haley said state police received 754 emergency calls from 6 p.m. on Saturday to 6 a.m. on Sunday, with almost half of them for vehicle collisions. President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in South Carolina on Saturday, making federal emergency funds available. Precipitation records fell in many places. In less than four days, Charleston broke its record for the greatest monthly rainfall for October. Counties reported more than 200 rescues from flood waters since Saturday night and more are expected, the emergency management division said in a Twitter post. Amtrak, the passenger rail service, canceled its Virginia-to-Florida auto train and a passenger train from New York to Miami because of the flooding. (Additional reporting by Gene Cherry on Hatteras Island, N.C., and Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Writing by Suzannah Gonzales and David Adams; Editing by Eric Walsh and Cynthia Osterman)