Two experts are sharing what they found about flooding through Horry County, after sampling flood victims whose homes flooded between 2016 and 2020.
Sieren Ernst and Laurie Johnson, Ph.D. are part of a non-profit called the Climate Cost Project, and they said their mission is to help understand and visualize the cost of a changing climate across the country.
"Households who are incurring this huge amount of out-of-pocket costs—they’re not documented anywhere,” said Dr. Laurie T. Johnson, the Executive Director and Co-Founder. “So, that’s really what motivated us to kind of, tell the story of what’s happening to real people.”
In their research study released in April, data from a sample of 127 households give that visual for Horry County.
The report found 81% of those surveyed had flooded two or more times in the five-year period, and 1/3 of those were located in flood zones still designated as low-risk areas by the FEMA flood area maps.
“If you’re in a high-risk flood zone, that’s a 1% chance per year of flooding, so over the course of a 30-year mortgage, you would expect to have a 30% chance of flooding,” said Co-Founder Sieren Ernst. “In that 5-year period, 80% of the homes flooded two or more times.”
“When you’re talking about a 100-year flood zone, you’re just not dealing with a 100-year flood zone anymore,” she said. “Those who are in a flood zone where they should have a .2% per year of flooding, or they flood once every 500 years, and that flood zone is just no longer descriptive.”
With unexpected, reoccurring floods, the two said it’s common for victims to pay out-of-pocket. They found 63% of those surveyed had to go into debt to cover some losses, and almost 90% of that included credit card debt.
“Things that people were not about to repair or replace, was another $26,000. And then out of pocket housing costs, for displacement, was another $6,600,” said Dr. Johnson.
On average, she said flood victims paid $37,000 out of pocket.
“There were basically people who said you know what, I don’t know if I can retire now.”
“Thirty percent of those people have indicated that they had lost all of their savings,” Ernst said.
In the five-year study period, she said Horry County Residents received $76 million in assistance, and the Horry County Government received $50 million. “There’s been $9.6 million in hazard mitigation for future damages, so only 7% of the total money,” she said.
“For the government, that’s just not a good investment, but for individuals of course this is just devastating because you’re pouring your life savings and going into debt to try to recover an asset that’s losing value.”
Of some homes sampled, the two said some homes were more expensive to repair than their current value on the market. As the value of more homes decrease, Ernst said one solution is to change the flood plan.
“Just to have more comprehensive planning, so that you can look at where the water is going in the community, as a whole and what kind of plans in the community as a whole can help to move the water differently through the community,” she said.
“This is not just about preventing people from moving there, but dealing with people where the ground under their feet is literally changing.”
The two said the 127 homes are spread out across Horry County and they got the responses from mailing random postcards, and working with a local flood advocacy group, Horry County Rising. Dr. Johnson said a national network of flood survivors introduced them to the group and notified them of Horry County’s flooding experience.
The report stated 458 households were randomly selected from a sampling frame of 1,374 homes that had flooded one or more times since 2016.