(UPDATED) UMCSC prepares as Hurricane Irma aims at Florida, heads toward South Carolina
By Jessica Brodie
COLUMBIA—As Hurricane Irma continues its devastating path across the Caribbean and on toward Florida, South Carolina is bracing for the worst.
But United Methodist leaders say they stand watchful—and ready to respond with Christian aid should the need arise. On Friday, Sept. 8, the storm was a Category 4 hurricane headed toward South Florida, downgraded from a Category 5 storm with winds topping at 185 mph and at least 10 dead in the Caribbean. Current storm tracks show the hurricane heading toward Georgia and South Carolina sometime between Monday night and Tuesday morning. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has issued a state of emergency, and thousands on the coast are preparing to evacuate as soon as the governor gives the order.
“Our Early Response Teams are all on standby and ready to deploy wherever they are needed, and we’ve been gearing up our supply of cleaning buckets and health kits. At this point, we’re as ready as we can possibly be,” said Matt Brodie, disaster response coordinator for the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church. “We’ve had a lot of experience with this now between the flood of 2015 and last year’s hurricane, so we feel we are in a good place to respond to needs as soon as it’s safe to do so.”
Brodie and his team are now calling for prayer and preparation, noting the biggest issues South Carolina will face are wind, rain, flooding, tornados and storm surge, both on the coast and into Columbia. Areas of the Lowcountry are estimating up to 10-15 feet of storm surge.
For a state that has experienced storm-related devastation the past two years—widespread flooding in 2015 from Hurricane Joaquin, and in 2016, from Hurricane Matthew—South Carolina United Methodists aren’t waiting until the last minute to prepare. Churches and individuals are making evacuation plans and gathering water, food, batteries and other needed supplies. Gas stations already have long lines as evacuees from Florida and other coastal regions seek refuge.
Jorge Gonzalez, a bread distributor and member of Mount Horeb UMC, Lexington, said Thursday that many stores are already sold out of bread as people do their best to stock up.
“We can’t keep up with demand,” Gonzalez said.
Some churches are also serving as shelters for evacuees, and the conference is asking for churches to let them know if they can serve as a shelter or respite. One church, St. John’s UMC, Batesburg, is an official rest stop on U.S. 178, west of Columbia. As of press time, they were busy preparing for the givernor’s anticipated evacuation order.
St. John’s pastor, the Rev. Scott Nurse, said the church is uniquely situated as it is bordered on two sides by U.S. 178. Besides drinks, snacks and restrooms, they also have a fenced-in area (the church playground) for children to play and dogs to walk. They also can use the area for horses to stretch. St. John’s provides information on places to stay farther to the west in both Greenwood and the Greenville area, along with places to shelter horses.
“This program is run by our outreach committee, but has wide and active support throughout the congregation,” Nurse said. “The church members take this activity very seriously and do it as an act of Christian love to support our neighbors in need. In the midst of all this we are also raising money for UMCOR’s emergency relief, and September is the month that we raise funds for our local food bank, Community Ministry Center.”
As the nation prepares for the storm to make its path known, Brodie encourages churches to continue making cleaning buckets and health kits both for Irma survivors and also survivors of the Gulf Coast’s Hurricane Harvey, as they will be sorely needed.
“We also want to be sure churches go out into the communities and assess the needs locally so that we can all respond as the hands and feet of Christ,” he said.
Check back at AdvocateSC.org for frequent updates on how the UMC is preparing for and responding to Hurricane Irma.
UMCSC Hurricane Preparation as of Friday, Sept. 8, 2017:
- South Carolina UMVIM Early Response Teams are prepped and ready to deploy when safe to do so.
- Disaster response trailers have been checked and supplied.
- Conference calls among ERT leaders, district disaster coordinators and conference staff are ongoing.
- UMCOR has been contacted regarding plans and emergency grant options.
- District offices have been sent information to provide to their pastors.
- Several ERT training classes are already scheduled, but more will likely be requested.
- The UMCSC continues to be in contact with the South Carolina Emergency Management Division about United Methodists’ role in responding after the hurricane.
- A UMCSC call center is being established to be able to serve hurricane victims, including help for Spanish speakers.