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'The No. 1 Issue Is Flooding': A Charleston Voter Weighs In Ahead of SC Democratic Primary03:03
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Betty Bonwell. (Cristina Kim/Here & Now)
Betty Bonwell. (Cristina Kim/Here & Now)

One fact about the city of Charleston, South Carolina: It floods — a lot.

In 2019, the city flooded almost once every five days, according to the National Weather Service. Charleston is at the forefront of climate change, and city officials are already planning for a two-to-three-foot sea-level rise over the next 50 years.

“The No. 1 issue is flooding,” says Betty Bonwell, who, ironically, lives on Flood St.

Bonwell resides in public housing near Gadsden Creek, a strip of tidal wetland carved out of a former landfill on the northwest edge of the Charleston peninsula. In recent years, the area has undergone development, and some are calling for the creek to be paved over to make room for more housing and businesses.

Bonwell says she doesn’t understand why developers are looking at her neighborhood “because it always floods back here.”

“You get the heavy rain, yes it’s going to flood,” she says. “Sometimes it got so bad you could swim out there. Not only here, but on the concrete out there. … Nobody cleans it up, darling.”

Dealing with this regular flooding is a way of life for Bonwell. And as she gets older, health care is also something she’s been thinking a lot about. She has coverage, but she knows a lot of folks around her who don’t.

Health care is also one of the reasons why she’s got her eye on Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“I like Sanders. I just have this feeling anytime he talks I can feel like, like he will help us with medical [care],” Bonwell says. “And a lot of people now need it, like Medicare. I get Medicare. I get both of them. People older than me don’t get it.”

According to a recent CBS poll, 42% of South Carolinians say health care is their No. 1 concern. The state hasn’t expanded Medicaid, which leaves many low-income residents without coverage.

Another problem plaguing the city of Charleston is affordable housing, Bonwell says.

“A lot of people are out here right now don't have a place to stay,” she says. “Yeah, they got shelters, but there's a lot of people here. You go see some of them sleeping under the bridge.”

For years, the number of homeless people on the street in Charleston was declining. But last year the city saw an uptick.

All of this weighs heavily on Bonwell, she says. With the primary election just days away, she’s thinking about where her vote will count most.

“What I want for America? I want [us to] help each other. Help people. You know, help us. Not only me. I mean, help everyone,” she says. “I am not going by color and all that. Just help all of us.”


Cristina Kim produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Kathleen McKenna. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web. 

This segment aired on February 27, 2020.

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