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'The Comet' Provides Support Following Columbia, SC Flood
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor“We were in great shape” despite rain throughout the day Oct. 3, said the agency’s executive director, Robert Schneider. However, several small dams broke that night, one after another, causing massive flooding and leaving the Comet unable to enter service the morning of Oct. 4. “Our driver complement came out,” he said, “but the conditions were beyond what would be safe for our drivers or our passengers.”
Residents of Columbia, SC, are beginning to recover from the catastrophic flooding that struck Oct. 3-4—and the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority (the Comet) has been pitching in to help since the emergency began.
However, while the Comet suspended its regular service until Oct. 7, the agency was providing evacuation services in the aftermath of the flooding under the supervision of emergency management personnel.
“On Sunday [Oct. 4], we were called out under the watch and attention of emergency management. They contacted us at 6:30 a.m. to say they needed our help in evacuating the residents of an apartment complex; that’s the first thing we did,” Schneider said. He noted that Comet buses evacuated residents from several locations that lost power and water because of the flooding and even had to transport evacuees from one shelter to another when conditions at the first site became unlivable.
The flood waters began to recede on Oct. 6, Schneider said, and the Comet started restoring baseline services the next morning. By that afternoon, the system was operating at 95 percent of its pre-emergency levels, where it has stayed since then. One concern he cited in the resumption of service at 100 percent was that some areas remained inaccessible as Passenger Transport went to press. In addition, he noted that city and agency officials questioned whether the flooding had further weakened roads to the point that full buses might cause them to collapse. He explained that the South Carolina legislature has not taken action in the past two years regarding a lack of infrastructure maintenance.
The restored service continued to operate fare free through mid-October. Schneider explained that victims of the flood emergency might not have been able to get to work or access their paychecks and many have lost their homes; they can access food and supply distribution centers located on Comet routes and it would not make sense to charge a fare.
“One or two areas of our service area were so affected that we either can’t operate there at all or must use a detour,” he said. “This situation will remain until the roads are repaired. The state is beginning to assess and prioritize road repairs, but we don’t know how long that will take.” On the other hand, he said, the Comet extended its weekday-only service to weekends to serve one particularly hard-hit community.
Schneider said the agency itself had made evacuation plans it ultimately did not need; its facility is located near a large river that did not flood. Some employees lost power for a few days or had to boil their water, he said, but “none was really hard hit.”