By MEG KINNARD AND JEFFREY COLLINS
CHAPIN, S.C. (AP) – As the worst of the floodwaters that roared through South Carolina washed out to sea, Gov. Nikki Haley and other officials said Monday it is time to start recovering instead of reacting to the ongoing emergency.
Workers reopened the entire stretch of Interstate 95 southbound Monday, making it the first time in eight days that traffic on the major highway link from Florida to the Northeast didn’t take a two-hour detour. Crews hope the northbound lanes would soon follow.
Again on Monday, Haley refused to speculate how much damage in dollars the massive floods that started Oct. 2 have caused and how the state might pay to fix it. But she promised to rebuild.
“This is not going to take us years to get out of this,” the governor said.
Haley also thanked volunteers, law enforcement and other workers for their times. Those helping included people like Bob Kuenzli, who usually works as a police officer at a school in Chapin, but while school was cancelled last week, put on a South Carolina State Guard uniform and was assigned to help at a Columbia food bank.
Kuenzli, 68, was directing traffic Friday when a food bank volunteer, 72-year-old Charles Kauffman, became irritated that Kuenzli was letting truck traffic move and stopping other cars.
“Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him coming my way,” Kuenzli told reporters Monday. “He sped up and threw me. I got thrown to the ground.”
An angry Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott made sure Kauffman was charged with attempted murder.
Kauffman’s lawyer said at his bond appearance Sunday that he has apologized to Kuenzli and is taking medication after suffering two recent strokes. Kauffman’s bond was set at $75,000 and he was put under house arrest after being released from jail. There was no answer Monday at a phone number listed for him, and his attorney did not immediately return a message.
Kuenzli broke a bone in his wrist. But the Air Force veteran from the Vietnam War was ready to go back and volunteer as soon as he could.
“I was just doing my job,” he said, his left arm in a sling. “That’s all I was doing.”
Thousands of other people in South Carolina have also been working long hours, including crews continuing to fix a breach in the canal that supplies Columbia drinking water. Reserve tanks had been refilled and the city hopes to get all 375,000 of its customers off a boil water advisory soon. The South Carolina State Fair in Columbia was on schedule to start Wednesday in Columbia, and Lott said his deputies could handle traffic and security for the University of South Carolina’s football game scheduled for Saturday.
Contractors were also busy putting rock and concrete to shore up the foundations under more than a dozen small bridges over rivers and swampland on a 13-mile stretch of Interstate 95 that had been closed since Oct. 3. The southbound lanes were reopened Monday morning, ending a 168-mile detour through Columbia for people trying to drive the 75-mile stretch between Interstate 20 and Interstate 26.
The repairs were permanent and the bridges shouldn’t have to close again, South Carolina Department of Transportation Secretary Christy Hall said.
Officials hoped to reopen the northbound lanes of I-95 by Tuesday morning.
And as officials announced every rain-swollen river in the state had finally reached their crests and were falling, the governor promised to send teams of insurance adjustors, mental health professionals and unemployment specialists to every hard-hit community so those people wouldn’t have to drive out of town to get help.
“We are going from a massive response situation to a massive recovery,” Haley said.