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'Once-In-A-Millenium' Flooding Creates 'Otherworldly Scenes' in South Carolina

Officials warned that the historic deluge will likely worsen as climate experts discussed connections between warming planet and extreme weather

Homes inundated by flood waters in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Homes inundated by flood waters in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

South Carolina's once-in-a-millennium flooding this weekend left at least seven people dead and much of the state paralyzed—and as rains continued into Monday morning, officials warned that the deluge is likely to worsen.

"This is the worst flooding in the low country [the region around the South Carolina coast] for a thousand years, that’s how big this is," Gov. Nikki Haley said at a news conference on Sunday. "That’s what South Carolina is dealing with right now." Haley's statements followed President Barack Obama's declaration of a state of emergency on Saturday.

Vehicles were submerged and electricity cut off to thousands due to the extreme weather, which was touched off as Hurricane Joaquin moved over the Atlantic in the direction of Bermuda. The most impacted areas stretch from South Carolina's centrally located capital city of Columbia to the coast, with towns including Charleston and Georgetown also severely impacted.

"The flooding is unprecedented and historical," Dr. Marshall Shepherd, director of the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia, told The Associated Press. And according to the National Weather Service, Sunday was the wettest day in the recorded history of Columbia.

AP journalists Seanna Adcox and Jeffrey Collins described "otherworldly scenes" in the capital on Sunday "as floodwaters nearly touched the stoplights Sunday at one downtown intersection. Rainwater cascaded like a waterfall over jagged asphalt where a road sheered apart and many cars were submerged under flooded streets."

Climate scientists have linked South Carolina's catastrophic rains to climate change.

"Joaquin has been traveling over a record-warm ocean surface and undoubtedly that has contributed to its rapid intensification," Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, told The Huffington Post last week. "In a very basic sense, warmer ocean surface temperatures mean there is more energy available to strengthen these storms. So we expect more intense hurricanes in general in a warmer world."

And as Bobby Magill noted in Climate Central last year, "Charleston is also among the East Coast’s most vulnerable metropolitan areas to rising seas and a changing climate, which may threaten nearly $150 billion of infrastructure along the South Carolina coast. In the past century, the Atlantic has risen more than a foot along the coast near here and could rise an additional 5 feet by 2100, according to research on climate change’s impact on the Southeast released in November and used as part of the Third National Climate Assessment."

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