UMCSC steps up
By Jessica Brodie
COLUMBIA, S.C.—South Carolina is picking up the pieces today after a storm so catastrophic South Carolina’s governor called it a “1,000-year flood.”
The storm left a massive chunk of the state between Columbia and Charleston underwater, with parts of the Lowcountry getting more than two feet of rainwater and Columbia up to 16 inches. As of press time, at least 11 were dead, some drowning in submerged vehicles, including a South Carolina Department of Transportation worker who was swept away in the flood. Dams failed, ponds overflowed and major rivers crested. Hundreds of roads, bridges and huge sections of interstates closed, including a 70-mile stretch of I-95. Forty thousand people were without water as of Monday afternoon. Many residents saw curfews, evacuations and boil-water advisories—and a firm directive to stay home and stay safe.
“This is historic levels of rain—we’ve never seen anything like this before,” Gov. Nikki Haley told NBC’s Today Show early Monday morning, describing the devastation and the thousands of law enforcement, utility crews and rescue workers doing all they can to keep people safe, including 150 water rescues. “We’re a strong state. We’ll get through this.”
She called it a 1,000-year flood, referring to there being a one-in-1,000 chance of this happening in a given year.
The South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church is now stepping up in the aftermath, with Bishop Jonathan Holston urging prayer, generosity of compassion and financial resources and volunteerism as the state begins slow steps to regroup and heal.
“Presently, we are in a time of waiting until the floodwaters recede before any coordinated response can begin,” Holston said in a statement. “As people of faith, we hold onto the promise that God is faithful in the midst of the storm and the flood. God’s love will triumph in the midst of loss and destruction.”
In addition to prayer, Holston urged people to refrain from making unsolicited donations of things like clothing and food and instead to respond to identified needs. He also urged people to consider being trained and volunteering for recovery efforts through United Methodist Volunteers in Mission.
“Much effort will be required in the coming days and weeks to bring new life into devastated areas,” Holston said. ”Consider offering your time and talents to that effort.”
From assessment to response
The Rev. Gregg Varner, South Carolina Conference disaster response coordinator, encouraged people to do what they can to help their neighbors, as well as to report damage in the community to district disaster response coordinators so they can be as thorough in their assessment as possible.
“For there to be an active and timely response for these our specific identified missions, we need accurate damage assessment information,” Varner said. “If we don’t know about it, we can’t help.”
Varner said the response and recovery effort will be ongoing for quite some time.
“It is important for us to recognize that more than likely no one living today has seen this kind of flooding in South Carolina. It is beyond even what experts might plan for in the emergency response community,” Varner said. “We are ‘People of the Way,’ and our way is the spread the love and saving grace of Jesus Christ.”
Billy Robinson, South Carolina UMVIM Disaster/Early Response Team coordinator, said he hopes to send out disaster-relief teams within a day or two, and they are actively seeking churches who are willing to host and feed ERTs from South Carolina and other states who are working to repair homes and remove debris.
“At this phase, we have local ERT teams going out in the local communities and helping as needed, and also gathering assessments for damage information, such as how bad is a house damaged and where exactly we’re going to need to deploy teams in the state,” Robinson said.
Robinson, who spent today removing sandbags from his own home in addition to assessing the needs of others, said his heart goes out to the people with damaged homes and injuries.
“We’ve gone out these past 10 years to other states and seen their devastation and felt their hurt and pain, and when it hits home it’s hard, because we are caught up in it, too,” Robinson said. “But we’re there to help and spread God’s love.”
Churches willing to host teams should email Robinson at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also said South Carolina United Methodists interested in becoming a member of the ERT are invited to do a daylong training Oct. 10 at Sharon UMC, Sharon; contact Monica Tilley at 803-810-3617.
Local churches ‘hands and feet of Christ’
Locally, churches are doing whatever they can to pitch in and help their surrounding community.
North Charleston UMC, North Charleston, has been serving as a Red Cross emergency shelter since Saturday.
“We’ve had anywhere from 20-27 residents here in our fellowship hall,” said the Rev. Wendy Hudson-Jacoby, North Charleston’s pastor, who managed to hold a small but meaningful worship service Sunday morning. “The Red Cross has been here with their volunteer staff, and our congregation and our community has been amazing, with chefs who’ve been in cooking meals and others providing clothes and towels and toiletries for folks who’ve come in, some who’ve lost everything.”
She said the area around the church had very little flooding, but just a couple of miles away, roads were washed out, and many people have been restricted to their subdivisions because major thoroughfares are closed.
“We just want to be the hands and feet of Christ to people who are most in need,” Hudson-Jacoby said. “We want to offer the ultimate levels of Christian hospitality to people no matter what.”
Others offered their church as a safe, dry place for people to stay.
Michael Hood, pastor of Platt Springs UMC, Columbia, said one of their members drove a bus to a nearby flooded apartment building and transported the evacuees to the church until they could find permanent shelter.
“Jesus’ example guides us to love our neighbor and comfort the afflicted, and today has given us a terrific opportunity to do just that,” Hood said.
Mount Hebron UMC, West Columbia, also offered their church as a shelter.
“When our staff heard many of our parishioners and people in our community were being asked to evacuate their homes, we opened the church to the community. There was no other place for shelter in our community,” said Associate Pastor the Rev. Elizabeth Murray, the only staff person who was able drive to the church.
Little River UMC, on the coast, received a great deal of rain. Senior Pastor the Rev. Kevin Gorry said road closures have made it difficult to get around, but their Dignity Ministry continues to operate.
“We have been open to provide a dry place to go, meals for the homeless and anyone else who was in need. We are providing facilities for showers, and the washing and drying of clothes,” Gorry said. “We have also been providing clothing for those who have appeared at our doors soaking wet and with little or nothing but the clothes they were wearing.”
Elsewhere in the state, churches are responding with prayer and other outreach.
The Rev. Richard Lewis said his Upstate South Carolina church, Duncan UMC, Duncan, has been designated a temporary shelter for flood victims. In Landrum, also in the Upstate, the Rev. Mike Bowers of Jacksons Grove UMC said not only is his church praying and collecting funds, but also is leading a team of ERT volunteers to join with another church, New Beginnings UMC, to deploy to one of the hardest-hit areas. The church is also collecting cleaning equipment and supplies to send with the team.
How to help
In a press conference Monday at noon, Gov. Haley said the state is shifting from being in response mode to assessment and recovery mode. She noted 550 roads and bridges had been closed and more than 900 weather-related collisions across the state, and said the biggest challenges are now tackling the “wave of water” from the Midlands to the coast, as well as debris removal and other aftermath issues.
But, Haley said, “We’re stronger today than we were yesterday.”
President Barack Obama has declared a state of emergency in South Carolina, and Holston reminded people that the United Methodist Committee on Relief and The United Methodist Volunteers in Mission stand ready to provide assistance as recovery efforts unfold.
“We are a connectional church, and we are not alone as we seek to respond faithfully to communities in crisis,” Holston said.
Forrester urged people not to self-deploy as volunteers.
“Unless you live in the affected community, then work through your church, pastor, or district disaster coordinator,” Forrester said. “If you are from outside of the area, but within South Carolina, please connect with Rev. Gregg Varner (South Carolina Disaster Response Coordinator) to ascertain where you might be needed and who to contact. For those outside of South Carolina, you will receive an invitation when appropriate and it will come from your conference disaster response coordinator and the UMVIM SEJ (Southeastern Jurisdiction) office.”
Forrester urged people to do four key things: pray, donate funds to UMCOR or the South Carolina Annual Conference, wait for the invitation to come and serve as volunteers for cleanup, and assemble health kits; he said they have a sufficient supply of cleanup buckets available.