After Irene: UMVIM disaster workers respond to call
By Billy Robinson
AURORA, N.C. — Disaster workers from the S.C. United Methodist Volunteers in Mission Early Response Team headed to North Carolina Sept. 4-10 to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, a Category 1 hurricane that dumped rain on homes and caused widespread flooding and other damage.
First, 12 disaster workers headed to Aurora Sept. 4-8 to help after the storm. The team included Revs. Donald and Karen Upson, Frank Gramlin, Glenn Williams, Sam Caskey, Sallie Clamp, Laima Brunner, Dan Dowbridge, Monica Tilley, Kent and Betty Blocksome, and myself.
We stayed in Aurora United Methodist Church, which opened their arms to us and were a very good host for our team and others from North Carolina and Virginia who came to help.
Storm water had surrounded the church, but not come in. However, that was not the case for many other buildings, which were flooded or destroyed by Hurricane Irene.
Aurora is well known for its vast amount of fossils, many of which are discovered every year at a huge quarry run by PCS Phosphate Aurora Mine. None of the residents could remember such a flood caused by a Category 1 hurricane. The closest comparison was a hurricane in 1954.
Though the floodwaters were the main destroyer of homes, there was plenty of tree and wind damage from there all the way up the eastern coastline to Canada.
The Rev. Karen Upson helped N.C. District Disaster Coordinator Cliff Harvell coordinate and organize a command structure and housing for future ERT and recovery teams, as we were the first United Methodist teams into the area. This included the conversion of a nearby building to house teams, feed people and set up a shower trailer.
We split up into two teams and headed to various homes providing muck out operations, which include helping people salvage all good items, throwing away the unsalvageable, removing or tearing out all mold-forming items and appliances, then spraying down the homes with a bleach solution.
The main focus is always showing a loving and caring Christian presence to the survivors who are just starting their healing process, while also representing God s hands and feet to hurting and devastated people.
The home of Charles and Carol Stokes, of 4 Mill Road near Aurora, was typical of many. They had two feet of water come into their home, which basically was enough to destroy the majority of their home and its contents. This included 48 years worth of tools Charles had acquired that had been in two storage houses and now was strung out for several hundred yards or more and destroyed.
Charles had suffered a quadruple heart by-pass, cancer and a stroke within the past five years and had forgotten to renew his flood insurance. When we first arrived, you could visibly see the loss of hope and direction in the Stokes eyes and body language. On the day we left, you could see a sense of hope and direction restored and a grateful couple who had felt the lifting love of God that carries us through such devastating times.
As with all missions, we arrived home so much more in touch with reality “ blessed and thankful children of a truly loving, caring and graceful God.
Helping in Rocky Mount, too
Then, Sept. 6-10, the Rev. Fred Buchanan of Newberry led an ERT Team in Rocky Mount, N.C. The main emphasis there was on chainsaw work in rural areas where many people were not able to help themselves. There was no flooding, but there was a massive amount of downed trees. As with Aurora, teams were also housed in churches.
North Carolina and all states affected by Hurricane Irene will need a lot of aid for a long time. ERT teams are still responding, and most states are opening up portions of the disaster areas to regular recovery teams.
Who We Are: ˆThe S.C. UMVIM Early Response Team
We are willing to help wherever and whenever needed. We are members of the United Methodist Church and are called United Methodist Volunteers In Mission. Our disaster response group is called an Early Response Team. At present, we have 700 members in South Carolina; all are volunteers.
Our purpose is to respond in the aftermath of a disaster to help make structures safe, sanitary and secure. We do this through cutting or clearing access routes into structures, applying tarps or plastic to roofs and securing the structures to prevent further damage. This may also include mucking-out after a flood. We do not perform any repairs that may affect insurance claims. We then rapidly move on to other structures, doing the same thing.
One of our most important jobs is to minister to the people affected by a disaster “ simply listening to them and allowing them to see the love of Jesus through our care, concern, love and action. We do not go in and force our beliefs on anyone, though we proudly proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We are fully self sufficient in that we take with us everything needed for our teams, such as food, water, sleeping arrangements (RVs), etc., so we are not a burden on the affected people or any other agencies. We rotate new people in every few days because of stresses associated with a disaster.
At present, we have 12 disaster response trailers in S.C. filled with a wide variety of supplies, including chainsaws, tarps, plastic sheeting, hammers, skill saws, reciprocating saws, lighting, generators, etc. UMVIM owns six of these trailers, and individual churches own and maintain the others. We have tractors with front-end loaders, golf carts, four-wheelers, RVs and more to supplement us.
All members of the ERT have gone through the minimum of a basic First Responder course on disaster response, which is an eight-hour course on the basic fundamentals of disaster response. The course includes the basics of first aid, CPR, the Incident Management System/ Incident Command System, chainsaw safety, response safety, response procedures, etc.
All members are taught that we never go without a formal request to respond and that we fall under the chain of command, never doing any forms of freelancing.
We are simply a group of Christian people who have a strong desire to show others the love of Jesus during their times of need through our prayers, concern and physical action. We let our actions speak for themselves. We are Christian love in action.
For more on volunteering, visit www.umvim-sc.org, or call 888-440-9167.
Robinson is the S.C. UMVIM disaster coordinator.