Unprecedented and deadly rainfall turned South Carolina roads into rivers and parking lots into lakes on Sunday, prompting officials to warn residents not to leave their homes for any reason — even on foot.
"We haven't seen this level of rain in the Low Country in 1,000 years," said Gov. Nikki Haley during a news conference Sunday. "That’s how big this is."
More than 250 roads across the state were closed due to the storm that dumped over two feet of rain in some areas, according to the state's department of transportation, which reported it had responded to nearly 1,200 distress calls and more than 300 collisions. One DOT employee was unaccounted for, said South Carolina Transportation Secretary Christy Hall Sunday, without offering additional details.
A record-breaking 8.7 inches of rain fell during a 24-hour period over the weekend in Columbia, South Carolina, the National Weather Service reported.
Haley advised people to stay off the roads not only to stay safe but to keep streets clear for rescue crews, as well as utility trucks working to restore power to 25,000 customers. Haley and the South Carolina Department of Public Safety said people shouldn't even leave their homes on foot.
"If you are in your house, stay in your house," Haley said. "This is not something that you want your kids playing in ... this is not something that you want to be taking pictures of.”
Haley encouraged local government offices businesses and schools to close Monday and maybe even Tuesday, as the damage to roads and bridges couldn't be immediately assessed. Some schools had already announced cancellations, and North Charleston County, Lexington County and the city of Columbia announced a curfew that would start at 10 p.m. Sunday and last until 6 a.m. Monday.
Seven people had already died in weather-related incidents across North Carolina and South Carolina since Thursday, according to authorities.
A woman who drove around a flood barrier in Spartanburg drowned in the standing water Thursday, Sherri Iacobelli, a spokeswoman with the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, told NBC News. And three more people have died in separate weather related traffic incidents in South Carolina since Friday, according to the state's department of public safety.
Michael Wukela, 36, didn’t have a choice but to venture out. The Columbia Mayor’s Office employee had to head into the emergency operations center, but told NBC News, “I’m going on official city business. People should stay indoors. Do not drive.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this in Columbia,” Wukela, who has lived in the city since 2006, said. “And I lived in Florence during Hurricane Hugo.”
Ethan Nunn, from North Carolina, also drove through South Carolina Sunday, with the goal of getting to a Foo Fighters concert in Atlanta, Georgia. “For an hour, hour and a half, we were in pouring rain, very windy, the roads were flooded,” said Nunn, who was celebrating his 21st birthday.
Nunn said he and his friends were detoured by police in Columbia where the group saw “a car where the water was up to the window.” Nunn said he and his friends made it safely to Georgia and didn’t plan to travel back home until Monday.
Columbia resident, Portia Bell, on the other hand, wasn’t taking any chances. The 46-year-old said she’s lived in Guam and California — and living through other extreme weather events has taught her to stock her apartment because driving isn't worth the risk.
“I’m used to being in areas where you have to be prepared for acts of God like this," Bell told NBC News. "But the flooding — this is the first time I’ve seen flooding like this and flooding so close to me."
The downpours and "catastrophic" flooding were expected to persist not only in South Carolina, but along the east coast through the night Sunday, according to the National Weather Service. Part of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia were under coastal flood warnings on Sunday.
In a Delaware town on the shore, firefighters had already rescued two people from truck that got caught in floodwaters Saturday, according to NBC Philadelphia. In New Jersey, the floods dislodged an entire house from its pilings in a low-lying town, according to NBC New York.
The effects of the storm could be felt long into the week. "A lot more damage is still yet to be done," NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins said on MSNBC. "The rivers are going to be a problem in this area for days to come."