Two S.C. ERT teams help in Florida after Ian

Article and photo by Billy Robinson

Two South Carolina teams headed to Florida in November to do their part helping in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

South Carolina United Methodist Volunteers in Mission Early Response Teams sent Team Alpha Nov. 6-13 to the Fort Myers, Florida, area. Team Bravo responded from Nov. 13-18.

A Category 4 storm, Hurricane Ian decimated portions of Fort Myers area Sept. 28 with 155 mph winds and waves of floodwaters. Its deadly, destructive path tore across Florida and made it the deadliest hurricane to strike Florida since the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane.

Infrastructure in Florida was so affected that it took more than a month before United Methodist Disaster Response was able to receive and sustain out-of-state ERTs. In the meantime, ERTs in South Carolina responded to the 45 mph remnants of Hurricane Ian locally, making responses from Charleston to Florence, with Charleston and McClellanville receiving the main portions of ERT-requested help.

Team Alpha

Team Alpha stayed at Faith United Methodist Church in the Fort Myers area with 28 volunteers, three ERT disaster response trailers and two skid steers. Volunteers brought flood buckets and a variety of supplies and donations for the survivors and church.

Crews were directed to the worst-hit areas, focusing efforts mainly on mucking and cleaning out flooded homes that received up to seven feet of saltwater throughout.

We also placed tarps on the damaged roofs of three homes, plus did some chainsaw work and a lot of skid steer work moving debris.

Massive piles of debris remained up and down most streets, which contained the physical aspects of many homes and lives, including waterlogged photos and precious treasured items destroyed by water and mold.

Mold was a major concern, and we took all needed precautions for our personal safety and the survivors who worked alongside us in several locations.

Another hurricane, the Category 1 Hurricane Nicole, came ashore near Tampa, Florida, on Nov. 13, causing us to leave a day earlier than expected while driving through stormy weather.

Desperate times

One flooded home that we worked on was the home of Pete Crumpacker, located three blocks from the ocean. His home had sustained six-and-a-half feet of saltwater, and nothing had been done with it since the hurricane. It was filled with all his family’s possessions plus furniture, appliances—and mold from the floor to the ceiling. Crumpacker, like so many others, had no flood insurance because of the high cost of obtaining it. He had lost a lot, but what could be salvaged, including the structure of his home, was in dire jeopardy because of mold and associated hazards. He needed to get everything out and sprayed soon.

Crumpacker kept flooding us with appreciation for our willingness to help with such a dirty and hazardous undertaking, to which we gave all the glory to God. He began to tell how his wife was so overwhelmed with emotion and sorrow that she could not even go back to their home. She was very depressed and had a hard time dealing with the entire disaster, which literally almost took their life.

They had decided to ride out the hurricane, which was almost a fatal mistake. He told that as the floodwaters rose in the dark of night, they began to climb onto furniture and then the countertops to stay out of the water. As the floodwaters continued to rise, the refrigerator began to float, and they eventually had to climb onto it to survive. Crumpacker took a hatchet and chopped a hole into the attic so they could keep their heads above the water. As he was chopping a hole into the roof, the water began to subside, and their lives were spared.

Crumpacker had such a wonderful attitude and was always smiling. We commented about his wonderful disposition, and he stated, “I am so thankful to Jesus for sparing our lives and realize that the rest is just material things. When life gives you a lemon, make lemonade.”

Team Leader the Rev. Mike Evans tells of another man named Walter Graham, who his team was sent to help.

“Walter was flooded out and was in dire straits,” Evans said. “A company had charged him $8,000 to remove the furniture out of his home and did not include removing all the cabinets, paneling, Sheetrock, insulation, etc.—mucking it out, which is what we did.”

Evans said the man “starting crying tears of joy when he found out our services were free.”

“Walter talked of how our ERTs gave him renewed hope amidst a seemingly hopeless situation. He kept thanking everyone, and we once again directed all the praise and glory to God, who equips us, sustains us and is our Lord and redeemer,” Evans said.

Team Bravo on their heels

S.C. ERT Team Bravo responded from November 13-18 with 17 volunteers, two ERT trailers and one skid steer. They were still in Florida as of press time.

Their first stop was at Crumpacker’s house to tear out around two bathrooms and then on to five other muck-outs of homes, with skid steer work and tarping.

As Team Leader Chuck Marshall said, “The people here are so devastated and down in a depressed state. We are so thankful to shine the light of Jesus into their areas of darkness and bring God’s hope and love to them. Our teams are working so hard and diligent, and I am so proud of them.”

Team Leader the Rev. Stephen Turner added, “Just because it is not still in the mainstream news does not mean that everything is back to normal—far from it for years to come. We need to continue to pray and support the people until it is.”

We were blessed this past year with three new heavy-duty ERT trailers and additional ERT equipment from generous donations from across our conference, making this long-distance mission possible as we deployed all the new trailers.

We are still in the process of purchasing some needed supplies. Further donations can be sent to the conference office earmarked to UMVIM ERT.

Robinson is the S.C. UMVIM ERT coordinator.

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