After the hurricane

UMCSC sends disaster teams, relief supplies to churches and people in need

Disaster hotline is 800-390-4911

By Jessica Brodie

Weeks after Hurricane Matthew pummeled coastal South Carolina, United Methodist disaster leaders are rolling up their sleeves and getting to work to show Christ’s love to thousands of people affected by the storm.

Their first order of business: assessment and early response.

Six of the 12 districts in the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church have seen damage from the storm, several of those with massive flooding, and the conference has opened up its disaster response hotline to begin helping people in need. The hotline is 800-390-4911 or [email protected]. The Spanish-language hotline is 844-344-2270.

“We know we have a lot of work to do,” said Matt Brodie, conference disaster response coordinator. “In terms of a recovery effort, it’s very similar to what we had with the flood except it’s more concentrated—instead of most of the state, it’s mainly I-95 to the coast.”

Brodie said it’s not just the coastal districts that have seen damage, though certainly they took the brunt. Hilton Head has more than 900 homes damaged, he said, and parts of Charleston and Myrtle Beach were devastated. But many inland areas were hard hit, as well. The Florence and Hartsville districts saw major flooding, and downed trees plagued the Orangeburg District.

South Carolina Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston urged United Methodists to pray, give and volunteer as they begin to pick up the pieces. He said The United Methodist Committee on Relief and 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. “We see tremendous evidence of God’s faithfulness in our midst.”

UMVIM Early Response Teams—both from South Carolina and from out-of-state—have already begun work where able, mucking out homes, tarping roofs, clearing tree limbs and more. More than 70 homes have been helped by ERTs as of press time.

“There is a huge amount of big trees on homes and massive damage in many parts of our state,” said Billy Robinson, South Carolina ERT coordinator (read survivor stories from Week 1 ERT responses, here). “The numbers of people needing help are staggering, and there are not enough volunteers to do the dire, needed work. We are going as hard as we can helping all the people we can, but this will be a long haul, and a big number of people will not get help for a while due to the magnitude of the disaster. Please keep the survivors and all responders in your prayers and help provide support.”

Trucks of UMCOR cleaning buckets and health kits are also being distributed in affected areas, mainly through UMCs serving as distribution sites.

The UMC delivered more than 1,800 buckets to the Bluffton and Hilton Head area, and St. Andrew By-the-Sea UMC gave them all out in less than 24 hours to local residents. Another 1,500 buckets and 1,500 health kits are being distributed there as of press time.

“There’s just a lot of people with a lot of need,” Brodie said.

More than 700 cleaning buckets and 1,500 health kits were sent to the Marion District specifically for the town of Nichols, which was completely underwater because of rising floodwaters from the nearby Lumber River. State officials are estimating that 99 percent of the structures will be destroyed. The UMCSC is working with the state and local government in the recovery efforts, including teams, relief supplies and other resources as identified. They’re also gathering other supplies, such as bath towels, for people in need. As soon as the waters recede there, the UMC stands ready to help.

Another 700 cleaning buckets were distributed to local churches in Charleston and to Rural Mission, Johns Island, and a number of health kits went to Harvest Hope food bank in Columbia for distribution through their channels. The Florence District got about 400 buckets and 200 health kits.

Brodie and his team are working with state agencies and other state Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster to collaborate on aid.

Three major work efforts

Right now, there are three major work efforts going on: 1) assessments of local communities and neighborhoods to determine work needed; 2) ERT work going on at individual homes primarily in the Bluffton, Orangeburg, Manning and Allendale areas; and 3) distribution of health kits and cleaning (flood) buckets in hard-hit areas.

Assessors are working with local emergency officials to tour areas and find out exactly where all the damage is, often going door-to-door to reach out directly to people and determine need. They report back, and ERTs are sent to help.

Disaster response leaders said volunteers are desperately needed, whether ERT-trained or not.

“We don’t have enough ERT teams, and they’re already overwhelmed and swamped in the areas they’re in now, but we’ve opened up the need for teams in all jurisdictions, not just the Southeastern Jurisdiction,” Brodie said, urging people to step up to serve. “The whole coast got hit—South Carolina’s coast, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida all got hit—and between last year’s South Carolina floods and the floods in Louisiana, our teams are stretched thin. There are not enough people to get the work done and we don’t have enough teams to go certain places, so we just need people.”

Volunteers are needed to serve as ERT members, to work alongside ERTs, to serve as damage assessors and to assemble health kits and cleaning buckets. To volunteer, call 800-390-4911 or email [email protected].

ERT Coordinator Billy Robinson and Chuck Marshall, disaster response coordinator for the Spartanburg District, have been working to coordinate ERT efforts. Disaster response coordinators in the six UMCSC districts that experienced no hurricane damage will be partnering with their counterparts in the six affected districts to assist them in disaster response, fielding calls and providing as much direct support as possible. The six affected districts are the Charleston, Florence, Hartsville, Marion, Orangeburg and Walterboro districts.

Other needs: money and supplies

Beyond volunteers, disaster response leaders say they have a vast need for financial donations, as well as donations of supplies for ERT and other teams.

The UMCSC received an emergency $10,000 UMCOR grant to help with getting supplies, materials and resources to equip the ERTs to do their work, but more is needed, Brodie said.

Current needs:

  • Churches in affected areas willing to house disaster response teams or act as distribution centers for relief supplies (contact Chuck Marshall at 803-386-7217);
  • People to get trained to serve on ERTs (contact Gail Corn at [email protected] or 803-786-9486, ext. 318);
  • People to donate to the UMCSC disaster response fund (donate at;
  • People to donate or lend vehicles and supplies (contact [email protected] or 803-786-9486, ext. 265);
  • People to help assess areas and figure out community needs, or work alongside ERTs (contact Chuck Marshall at 803-386-7217)
  • People to make health kits and cleaning buckets (go to for instructions on how to assemble and what to include); and
  • People with big vehicles to haul large quantities of the cleaning buckets and health kits to the distribution centers (contact [email protected] or 803-786-9486).

“This, like the flood, is not going to be a quick fix,” Brodie said. “It’s not jump in, jump out, it’s done. It’s going to be months and even years of recovery work, and we’re planning to be in it for the long haul.”

Stepping up

Many churches have been stepping up to help. Buckhead UMC, Ruffin, was a shelter and safe haven for members of the Ruffin Community for more than four days. Even though the location lost power, which was restored Oct. 12, the church still acted as a place of refuge.

“Thankfully there was no major damage, just fallen tree limbs and debris in the Ruffin area,” said the Rev. Sheri White, pastor, noting that FEMA’s community emergency response team and the disaster recovery team of Buckhead were also onsite. “We are thankful that we could be of service.”

St. Andrew By-the-Sea, both their Hilton Head main campus and their Bluffton satellite campus, became a distribution center and are housing and helping to coordinate ERTs.

The Rev. Michael Henderson, pastor of Highland Park, Florence, said his community is experiencing tremendous need, worse in some cases than last year’s flood.

“Officials in the area said that the tree, power line and water line damage in Florence was greater than the damage from Hurricane Hugo. While Hugo snapped of the tops of trees, Matthew caused trees to fall over from the trunks,” Henderson said. “The water level was so high due to last year’s floods and the rain we have had throughout the year, that when strong winds blew through the area, trees fell from the roots. After the wind and rain had passed, I walked through my neighborhood (you could not drive out), and watched as trees continued to fall, even though the storm had passed.”

Highland Park UMC immediately responded to the conference’s request for assistance, helping to distribute cleaning buckets, health kits and water bottles to local residents. The church also served as a shelter for 57 evacuees, Henderson said, plus collected “grab-and-go” food for the linemen and tree workers and distributed them. They also collected goods and gift cards for people from the Lakeview, Fort and Nichols communities and have had them delivered. They are currently coordinating with church teams looking to come down and serve.

Many more churches continue to help across the state (share stories and photos with the Advocate at [email protected]).

If you need help

If you need disaster assistance, the UMCSC disaster response hotline is 800-390-4911 or [email protected]. The Spanish-language hotline is 844-344-2270.

About the hurricane

Hurricane Matthew was a Category 4 storm when it slammed Haiti Oct. 4, killing nearly 900 people and then moving onto Florida, where it claimed the lives of at least six more people before moving north. At least 46 people died in the United States as a result of the storm, including four in South Carolina. The hurricane’s northern eyewall struck Hilton Head Island as a Category 2 storm very early Oct. 8 and continued north, weakening to a Category 1 and making landfall in McClellanville, a small town between Charleston and Myrtle Beach. Flooding from the storm-surge soon followed, with whole neighborhoods swamped, piers demolished, trees uprooted and, in Charleston, waist-level flooding in some parts. It is the first hurricane to make landfall in South Carolina since Hurricane Hugo devastated the state in 1989.

Fast facts about hurricane response

  • UMCSC is hard at work trying to help hurricane victims.
  • Six of the 12 districts in S.C. have damage.
  • UMVIM Early Response Teams from S.C. and out-of-state are doing initial response.
  • Assessors are working with emergency officials to tour areas and report back to ERTs.
  • Cleaning buckets and health kits are being distributed in hard-hit areas; more are needed.
  • Disaster hotline is 800-390-4911 or [email protected]; Spanish-language hotline is 844-344-2270.
  • UMCSC received an emergency $10,000 UMCOR grant, but more funds are needed.
  • UMCSC is working with VOAD, UMCOR and other groups to bring aid.
  • Volunteers are needed to serve as ERT members, work alongside ERTs, serve as damage assessors and assemble health kits and cleaning buckets. To volunteer: 800-390-4911 or [email protected].
  • Financial donations are needed. Donate here or call 803-786-9486.
  • Churches are needed to house disaster response teams or act as distribution centers for relief supplies.
  • To get help or volunteer help: 800-390-4911 or [email protected].

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