By South Carolina National GuardSeptember 25, 2018
GEORGETOWN, S.C. -- The South Carolina Army National Guard's 125th Multi-Role Bridge Company has had over 100 Soldiers in Georgetown since Friday night, prepared to implement a secondary plan of action in anticipation of possible flooding where the Highway 17 "Ocean Highway" bridges converge at Waccamaw and Great Pee Dee Rivers in Winyah Bay.
Capt. Joseph Varin, commander of the 125th MRBC and lead engineer on the project, explained that his unit employed eight segments of floating bridge to rehearse launching from a large truck into the river, moving in place with ropes tied to several boats, and connecting the segments together as they floated on the water.
"We would ferry personnel and equipment across the rivers if their need is of critical nature," said Varin. "We would take them from the south end of the bridge on Ocean Highway to the north end, and from north to south."
National Guard teams launched the large bridge sections, which they referred to as rafts, from the Carroll Ashmore Campbell Marine Complex in Georgetown Sunday morning. The rafts were joined together to make a larger raft with room to fit a commercial truck, which could then be ferried to the other side of the river.
Guardsmen were joined by the U.S. Coast Guard and the law enforcement division of South Carolina's Department of Natural Resources on Monday to practice using the multi-segment, long rafts to transport large, heavy vehicles.
"This is a rehearsal with the Coast Guard, and they're loading an F-450 with a trailer that has three small shallow water boats in it," said Varin. "We'll ferry them down the Sampit to the bay and return," he said, of the river that snakes its way from the western area of Georgetown County and merges with Pee Dee, Black, and Waccamaw Rivers in Georgetown.
The SCNG loaded a large mobility tactical wrecker used for vehicle recovery and maintenance onto a second raft during the practice run as well.
"South Carolina Department of Natural Resources is also launching a Law enforcement boat, going upriver with the rafts to exercise providing security," he said.
Another agency has a primary plan in place for traffic management in the area if flood levels rise, and the Army National Guard worked on the backup plan over the weekend.
"Hopefully our efforts won't end up being needed," said Varin. "But in a worst-case scenario, it will be good that we were prepared and ready to assist as needed."
The 125th MRBC worked 24-hour operations all of the previous week on Highway 501 in Conway, constructing barriers on each side of the road to protect it from Waccamaw River and Lake Busbee flood waters. Nearly 400 men and women from the 122nd Engineer Battalion from Edgefield and the 178th Engineer Battalion from Rock Hill worked the Conway project.
The 125th also constructed a barrier around the water treatment plant on Pawleys Island Monday morning.
"They've worked very hard on three projects over the last week-and-a-half, and they're ready to continue supporting as needed," Varin said about the Soldiers in his company. "They're non-stop and they're doing a great job."
The South Carolina National Guard has over 2,100 Soldiers and Airmen on duty, including support from the National Guard units in Alaska, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia.
The South Carolina National Guard's priority is to ensure all assets for any life-saving missions are in place as the state experiences flooding from rising waters in lakes and rivers, flowing down from North Carolina in the wake of Hurricane Florence, which hit Sept. 14. These rescue capabilities include helicopter aquatic rescue, high water transport vehicles, engineers to clear debris to open access routes for emergency responders and large sand-filled barriers and sandbags to assist in protecting infrastructure and critical routes.
The latest update on expected flood levels in the Georgetown area is at least 10 feet when the water is expected to be at its highest, which officials have stated is likely to be this Thursday.