After the Flood: Stages of loss and resilience

South Carolina’s 1,000-year rainfall event and catastrophic flooding in October 2015 caused several deaths, scores of dam breaches, extensive property damage, drinking water contamination and agricultural loss. Immediately after the catastrophe, the Office of the Vice President for Research created internal funding opportunities to support relevant faculty research. Thirty-four projects, led by more than 80 faculty researchers, were funded and reports from each project will be presented this October at the S.C. Floods Conference. Here is the third of six stories from a cross-section of the projects.

Stages of loss and resilience 

Peter Duffy didn’t think words on paper could adequately convey the personal stories of loss, struggle and resilience in the face of last fall’s flooding .

That’s why the University of South Carolina theater professor assembled a creative team to document the human suffering that followed the flood.

“It’s one thing to know that 11 trillion gallons of water fell, and that it’s enough water to have quenched the drought in California,” Duffy says. “But it’s another thing to hear what the flood has meant for people, and for so many people it’s still going on. You can’t really convey that information to the public without mediating it.”

Duffy led a team that interviewed three dozen Columbia residents hit hard by the disaster. The goal is to use art to express those experiences to the rest of the community, with three performances planned for a one-year commemoration of the flood in early October.

Working through transcribed and coded interviews, the team identified recurring themes, and Duffy created composite characters who will take the stage in the upcoming performances. Dance and photography will be part of the presentations.

Listening to people tell their stories revealed challenges the researchers never anticipated. 

“Some people had family come from out of state to help out at the drop of a hat, but for others that wasn’t the case,” Duffy says. “When you think about devastation of the flood, you’re thinking about shoveling out mud, not necessarily another layer of heartbreak on top of all that: having to deal with your family not being disinterested but they’re just not here.”

Resilience is a recurring theme in the interviews, Duffy says. 

“That’s been an important question: ‘What has gotten you through this?’” he says. “And what does the city still need to know?”

It won’t just be the city of Columbia that will get those answers. The team is working with C&T, an England-based theater company, that is providing an online platform to create a map highlighting similar projects around the world.

“We’re going to have a video of our play, which will be pinned to South Carolina,” Duffy says. “There are lots of similar projects happening around the world, looking at the impacts of weather-related phenomena or climate change related phenomena. 

“Each performance will get pinned, so we’re creating a global interactive map that uses arts-based methodologies to share what’s happening globally.”

Learn more

The Office of the Vice President for Research is hosting a daylong conference showcasing research funded by the 2015 SC Floods Research Initiative. The Oct. 7 event starts with an 8:30 a.m. check-in at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. It will feature scholarly oral and poster presentations from all of the 34 flood initiative research projects. Register for the free event at the SC Floods Conference website.

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