By Jessica Brodie
Six weeks after Hurricane Matthew ravaged South Carolina, The United Methodist Church is shifting to the next level of disaster aid, going beyond early response to more comprehensive relief.
While Early Response Teams are still at work tarping roofs, removing trees and generally getting homes safe, sanitary and secure, South Carolina disaster workers have started the relief phase “in small bits,” said Conference Disaster Response Coordinator Matt Brodie. Relief is phase two of disaster response, involving tear-out and mold remediation for flooded homes and preparing for phase three, which is long-term recovery and rebuild.
The relief phase will officially kick off the weekend of Dec. 2-3, when the conference holds a work blitz in Nichols, a Marion District town devastated by the October storm.
“What we’re trying to do is focus our relief efforts in a specific area over a specific period of time in order to maximize the relief efforts that we can provide,” Brodie said. “We are focusing on Nichols because there is so much devastation in such a compact area that we’re able to identify multiple homes to work on, alongside community resources that are available.”
Brodie said they are hoping to work on five to seven homes during the Dec. 2-3 blitz.
The work blitz is the first of its kind that the conference has coordinated. They are hoping to follow the December blitz with similar events in other areas of South Carolina.
Disaster coordinators said that unlike with more specialized ERT work, the blitz and other relief efforts can use untrained volunteers led by trained team leaders. An organized blitz has the potential to provide much help and serve as a springboard for future efforts.
If the December blitz in Nichols goes well, the conference will hold additional work blitzes in January and beyond.
“This is a way nontrained people can get involved and help hands-on with the hurricane relief efforts,” Brodie said.
Given the vast flooding and other damage the hurricane caused, more people willing to pitch in and help is exactly what the conference needs right now. Nichols was the most extreme example of devastation; rising floodwaters from the nearby Lumber River swamped the town, leaving more than 230 homes flooded, all of the churches and nearly all the businesses flooded. Nichols UMC’s sanctuary was not damaged, but the fellowship hall, choir room and Sunday school rooms were, and the parsonage had tremendous water damage.
“When you drive through Nichols, it looks like a ghost town—banks are closed, the dollar store hasn’t reopened, the laundromat is closed; if you have to do any business, you have to go over to Mullins,” said Nichols UMC pastor the Rev. Eddie Collier, who described the town prior to the hurricane as a small, close-knit, Mayberry-type hamlet with a population of around 400. “The town was literally devastated.”
Collier said a handful of residents have been able to get work done and move back into their homes, but the vast majority has not, and some have not even been able to return to collect their possessions. A woman across the street from him has been living in a camper since the hurricane. Others have purchased mobile homes so they can live on their property while they wait on repairs.
Collier said he was able to hold worship at the church with fairly large attendance one Sunday, but without a working heater, it has been too cold to continue. He does not know what the future will bring, but he hopes the town can rebuild and use the devastation to come together for a greater, God-sized purpose.
“All the administration of the town is very distraught; they’ve really poured their hearts into doing everything right, and they feel overwhelmed because they don’t know if their efforts will bear fruit,” Collier said. “But I hope Nichols can realize we’re in this together, we’ve suffered the same sufferings and have a common bond, and hopefully we can look up instead of down and continue to see what God is doing to do.
“I think He has something in store for us.”
Carlton Battle, a member of Nichols UMC and who owns a business in Nichols, Battle Oil Company, said knowing so many people will be coming together Dec. 2-3 to help people in his town, along with the general outpouring of help, love and prayer, has been overwhelming.
“They’ve reached out with open arms and embraced our problem,” Battle said. “It’s a very humbling experience. You watch this type of thing on CNN and say, ‘Oh, that’s a shame,’ and you turn the channel, but when it happens to you it can change your life.”
Marion District Superintendent the Rev. Tim Rogers said the work blitz in Nichols is important, and he encourages people to sign up.
“It will provide practical help for families in the community as we work to get their homes usable again, and it will be a source of hope and encouragement for the entire area to experience the love of God in action,” Rogers said.
People can help with the Nichols work blitz either day or both; registration is going on now at www.umcsc.org/data/nicholsrelief.php. Volunteers are encouraged to stay at nearby hotels.
Beyond Nichols, the conference is planning blitzes in other areas of the state, particularly the Charleston and Beaufort areas, which were hard hit. Six of the 12 districts in South Carolina saw damage from the storm, several like Florence and Hartsville with major flooding.
“We’re doing the best we can with what we have,” Brodie said, noting it will be a long path to full recovery. Many areas impacted by the October 2015 floods were reflooded by the hurricane, compounding the damage and the assessment process.
Ward Smith, conference recovery ministries director, said the conference will likely shift to the third phase of disaster response—long-term recovery and rebuild efforts—after Jan. 1. Smith said the conference is waiting on disaster grants as well as completed recovery assessments before that phase can begin.
For more information about how to help South Carolina after the hurricane, including how to volunteer, contribute supplies or make a donation to the disaster fund, visit www.umcsc.org/home/ministries/disaster-response or reach out at 803-786-9486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you need help, the disaster hotline is 800-390-4911 or email@example.com (Spanish-language hotline is 844-344-2270).
Spotlight on Hurricane Relief
In addition to collecting money and a few cleaning buckets, Leesville United Methodist Church, Leesville, is collecting new Bibles to give to hurricane victims, particularly those in the hardest-hit areas.
“One of our members, a PK (preacher’s kid), listened to God and approached me to talk about offering ‘Water and the Word’ to folks in Nichols who may have lost or damaged Bibles in the flooding left by Hurricane Matthew,” said Leesville’s pastor, the Rev. Sandra King. “The idea is that we will take bottled water and a Bible to those who need them to help shine the light of Christ and bring hope and spiritual healing.”
King said the vision at Leesville is to see the light and be the light.
“Our prayer is that ‘Water and the Word’ will shine the light for our sisters and brothers in need of hope,” King said.