Hurricane Joaquin may have turned north and headed away from the Eastern coast of the U.S., sparing residents from their worst fears, but the storm still managed to dump nearly two feet of rain in South Carolina. Flooding has overtaken many streets and homes in the state, killing at least five people as of Sunday evening. The damage doesn’t stop there, though. Evidence of one heart-wrenching side effect of historic flooding surfaced on social media this weekend, as numerous people posted images of coffins floating in several flooded cemeteries, having been unearthed by the high water tables.
The rainfall in South Carolina surpasses all previous records, with more than 24 inches in Mount Pleasant, almost 20 inches around Charleston and over 18 inches in the Gills Creek area of Columbia, according to CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward. “We are at a 1,000-year level of rain,” Governor Nikki Haley said at a news conference on Sunday. “That’s how big this is.” Although weather data doesn’t go back that far, Ward explains that “thousand-year rainfall” means that this amount of rain has a 1-in-1,000 chance of falling in a given year in the state. The governor went on to warn residents not to let children play in the flood water, because it is unsafe due to bacteria.
Perhaps the biggest problem stemming from the rising of caskets is the potential for chemical pollutants – like formaldehyde and other agents used in the embalming process – to contaminate the environment. This might happen if a coffin damaged during its floating journey becomes unsealed.
South Carolina is far from the first place where coffins have been unearthed after torrential rains and intense floods. Following Hurricane Katrina, many cemeteries in New Orleans were devastated as high water tables were overwhelmed with floodwaters, causing formerly buried coffins to again see the light of day. During a 1994 storm in Georgia, over 400 caskets were forced to the surface. As one might imagine, recovering, identifying, and reburying the interned adds quite a bit of difficulty to the post-flood recovery for emergency workers, not to mention anguish for family members, who must face burying their loved ones all over again.