Death toll from floods in southeast US climbs to 16

Mallard Ducks find the weather not even fit for them, finding a high spot along a flooded area along in Conway, South Carolina in the US.
Mallard Ducks find the weather not even fit for them, finding a high spot along a flooded area along in Conway, South Carolina in the US. PHOTO: REUTERS

COLUMBIA, South Carolina (AFP) - The death toll from record floods that swamped swaths of the southeastern United States has climbed to 16, officials said Tuesday, as the focus shifted to damage assessment and securing dams.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley - calling the torrential downpours "unbelievable" - told reporters that 14 people had died due to the severe weather in her hard-hit state, up from a previous toll of 11.

In neighbouring North Carolina, first responders said two people lost their lives. One died when a tree toppled onto a car, and another in an accident that occurred in the midst of a storm.

A tropical air mass over much of South Carolina starting Thursday caused sudden and dramatic flooding, bursting dams, downing power lines and leaving residents scrambling for safety.

Ms Haley, who on Sunday called the extreme floods a once-in-a-thousand-year event - said multiple dams had failed but that authorities were doing everything possible to monitor them and take necessary action.

"It is all hands on deck, it really is, everybody is doing whatever it takes," Ms Haley said. "We're putting eyes on these dams, we're not just looking and saying what could happen."

The National Guard and the Department of Transportation were on standby, she added.

"We have vulnerable ones that we'll be watching today and through the next 36 hours," Haley said.

In other comments, Haley said 40 per cent of first responder calls in her state were linked to road accidents, urging the population to heed barriers that had been put up at some 500 submerged streets and bridges.

More than 800 people are still seeking refuge in 26 emergency shelters and numbers could still go up, she said.

Haley appealed to the population to stay strong and to follow instructions from authorities.

"Everything is moving as it should and I hope that gives people strength to know that we've got you," she said.

"The damage is going to be heartbreaking for a lot of people but it's not something that we can't go and rebuild, and refix and redo and that's the part that we have to focus on."

President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration on Monday, making federal aid available to the state.