By Jessica Brodie
South Carolina United Methodist disaster response workers are shifting to the next phase in flood relief: repair and rebuild.
While November saw the last of the Early Response Teams’ work wind down, December brings a focus on long-term recovery that conference leaders expect will last for years.
“Churches are asking how can I help, and it’s important that people know based on the magnitude of the flood that this is a two- to four-year project,” said the Rev. Gregg Varner, conference disaster response coordinator, who noted that more than 80,000 people statewide have applied for assistance to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for flood relief. “This is going to go on for awhile.”
Matt Brodie, conference communications director, said full recovery could take as much as 10 years.
“The flooding brought historic devastation to parts of South Carolina, and while many in our state were unaffected, many lost everything—including homes, jobs and livelihoods,” Brodie said. “It’s important to remember that while the floodwaters came fast, the recovery process will take time. I would urge churches that were unaffected to continue to support communities that were hard hit with volunteers, resources and funds.”
The hurricane-fueled Oct. 3-4 storm left South Carolina in a state of emergency, with a massive swath of the state underwater. Nineteen died in the storm, and parts of the Lowcountry got more than two feet of rainwater, while Columbia got up to 16 inches. 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.
Dec. 7 is target to begin rebuild, repair
In the weeks after the storm, South Carolina United Methodist Early Response Teams deployed throughout the state, mucking out homes and churches and doing initial assessment of the damage.
Their work largely wrapped up around Thanksgiving, and now disaster workers are setting their sights on short-term UMVIM repair and rebuild teams.
The conference is in the process of setting up three regional recovery centers that will each handle an affected area: the Sumter/Columbia area, the Charleston/Berkeley/Walterboro area, and Manning/Florence to the beach. These centers will have staff funded by the United Methodist Committee on Relief to assess churches and homes and identify appropriate projects for the UMVIM teams to work on, plus ensure there is adequate funding, whether from FEMA or elsewhere, and that building permits can be secured, Varner said. The conference office will coordinate housing with churches who can put these teams up and feed them, and then they will launch.
“When we have the list of projects in hand and ready to go, then we will activate teams through the proper United Methodist Volunteers in Mission protocol,” Varner said, noting Derial Ogburn is the state UMVIM coordinator.
Their target date to begin rebuild and repair is Dec. 7.
“We’re anticipating we’ll get in a couple weeks, then break for the Christmas season, and then we’ll pick back up the first of the year,” Varner said.
The Rev. Kathy James, conference director of Connectional Ministries, said the UMCSC flood recovery efforts represent the United Methodist connection at its best.
“UMCOR brings experience and expertise to us as we set up a recovery structure using our conference resources, including UMVIM and local United Methodists,” James said. “Our strong United Methodist presence in every affected county equips us to make a real difference in the lives of persons seeking wholeness after the devastation. As United Methodists, we have much to celebrate and be thankful for as we work to bring healing in our communities.”
Teams are going to anywhere help is needed—not just those with a United Methodist connection.
“Some of the locations for construction teams to work come through the state, some through our churches and flood hotline, some places we’ve already been cleaning out,” Varner said.
He said the teams will be working with those who have unmet repair needs; for instance, a project that got enough money to purchase materials but not enough to complete repairs, so the UMVIM team will provide the labor.
They are still developing the list of initial projects that will begin Dec. 7, but Varner urged people to go through the proper avenue for seeking help—contacting the UMCSC flood hotline at 800-390-4911 or [email protected]—and not reach out to disaster workers directly.
“Call the hotline,” Varner said. “That’s the proper channel.”
How to help
Money, resources and volunteers are the biggest needs right now, disaster leaders said.
Varner said churches are encouraged to have fundraisers and donate directly to the South Carolina Conference disaster relief fund.
“All those funds will stay in the state and provide funds for flood relief and what we’re working on,” he said.
Also, Varner encourages churches in unaffected areas to consider partnering with churches in affected areas to help fund and repair as needed. One example is Good Hope Wesley Chapel UMC, Camden, which was damaged by the flood and is now being helped by Lyttleton Street UMC, Camden.
Also, those who wish to help on UMVIM teams either as skilled construction workers or as general helpers are encouraged to contact the flood hotline at 800-390-4911 or [email protected] and provide their name for volunteer assistance.
For more information: www.umcsc.org/screcovery.
How to help or get flood help
For more on the conference’s flood response and how to help (or get help): www.umcsc.org/screcovery.
To donate to flood relief, do so online or by mailing a check directly to the conference at 4908 Colonial Dr., Columbia, SC 29203 (note that it is for South Carolina Disaster Response).
To request flood assistance or volunteer assistance, contact the UMCSC flood hotline at 800-390-4911 or [email protected].
The Spanish hotline is 844-344-2270 and Spanish website is www.umcsc.org/ayuda.
Flood stories wanted for the Advocate
The Advocate welcomes stories of how your church was helped by or is helping with flood relief. Email stories and high-resolution photos to [email protected]. Deadlines are the 10th of the month for the following month’s paper.
By Jessica Brodie