Faith through the flood

South Carolina UMC focuses on long-term recovery after ‘1,000-year’ storm

Hotline established; funds, kits needed

By Jessica Brodie

Weeks after a storm so catastrophic South Carolina’s governor called it a “1,000-year flood,” South Carolina United Methodist disaster responders are transitioning from a rescue phase to a relief and recovery phase.

“This is a ‘drying out period,’ and we expect it to last at least through year-end, though the full recovery could take up to three years,” said the Rev. Kathy James, director of Connectional Ministries for the South Carolina Conference. “We will be involved in long-term recovery after the cameras go away.”

James is working with South Carolina Disaster Response Coordinator the Rev. Gregg Varner and other disaster response leaders to “be the church” to those who lost homes, cars and even loved ones in the storm.

“There are perhaps thousands of people in the state who have been harmed by this flood,” Varner said. “The South Carolina United Methodist Church will be an active player with other volunteer agencies—like the Salvation Army, Red Cross and Baptist Association—coordinating with the state to help victims return to normalcy, or at least as close as we can get.”

South Carolina Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston is urging prayer, volunteerism and generosity of compassion and financial resources as the state begins slow steps to regroup and heal.

Eight of the 12 districts in the conference have been affected by the flood (excluding Anderson, Spartanburg, Rock Hill and Greenville), and disaster leaders say financial contributions and assembly of health kits and school kits are the most important things United Methodists in South Carolina can do right now. Thousands of cleaning buckets are available through the United Methodist Committee on Relief, so additional cleaning buckets are not needed at this time.

The conference has set up an incident coordination center and hotline staffed weekdays to register requests for help and offers of assistance, as well as to schedule teams (800-390-4911 or [email protected]). Varner, who used to be the volunteer disaster response coordinator, will serve full-time as disaster response coordinator through March, working out of the conference center.

South Carolina United Methodist Volunteers in Mission Early Response Teams have been deployed throughout the state since the disaster under the leadership of ERT Coordinator Billy Robinson, mucking out homes and churches and doing initial assessment of the damage. Short-term relief teams are next on the horizon.

But more than anything, leaders want people to know the UMC is standing ready to help in any way needed—whether through direct repair and recovery or through Christian prayer and fellowship.

“As people of faith, we hold onto the promise that God is faithful in the midst of the storm and the flood,” Holston said. “God’s love will triumph in the midst of loss and destruction.”

State of emergency

President Barack Obama has declared a state of emergency in South Carolina after the hurricane-fueled storm Oct. 3-4 that left a massive chunk of the state between Columbia and Charleston underwater, with parts of the Lowcountry getting more than two feet of rainwater and Columbia up to 16 inches. Nineteen died in the storm, some drowning in submerged vehicles, including a South Carolina Department of Transportation worker who was swept away in the flood. 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. Thousands were without water for days, and many residents saw curfews, evacuations and boil-water advisories—and a firm directive to stay home and stay safe.

“This is historic levels of rain—we’ve never seen anything like this before,” Gov. Nikki Haley told NBC’s Today Show, describing the devastation and the thousands of law enforcement, utility crews and rescue workers doing all they can to keep people safe. “We’re a strong state. We’ll get through this.”

Haley called it a 1,000-year flood, referring to there being a one-in-1,000 chance of this happening in a given year.

Varner said the response and recovery effort will be ongoing for quite some time.

“It is important for us to recognize that more than likely no one living today has seen this kind of flooding in South Carolina. It is beyond even what experts might plan for in the emergency response community,” Varner said. “We are ‘People of the Way,’ and our way is to spread the love and saving grace of Jesus Christ.”

Robinson said local ERT teams have been canvassing local communities and helping as needed, assessing damage and preparing a site for more intensive work.

“We’ve gone out these past 10 years to other states and seen their devastation and felt their hurt and pain, and when it hits home it’s hard, because we are caught up in it, too,” Robinson said. “But we’re there to help and spread God’s love.”

Money, buckets and kits

Part of spreading God’s love is being there for every aspect of the disaster.

James and Varner said donations of money are a significant help right now. Tax-deductible donations to the South Carolina Disaster Response Fund will only be used in South Carolina, and people can donate through the conference website (here), through the local church 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).

James said many churches were badly damaged by floodwaters and will desperately need financial assistance.

“We don’t yet know how many churches have severe damage,” she told the Advocate. “We are hearing of additional churches with damage every day. Some areas of the state are still not easily accessible because of standing water.”

In addition to money, they said assembling United Methodist Committee of Relief health and school kits will be a big help to flood victims. Health kits provide basic necessities to people who have been forced to leave their homes. School kits provide books and school supplies for children learning in flood-affected areas. (Learn more at

“South Carolina United Methodists and others have been very generous in providing cleaning buckets after previous disasters around the country. For this reason, there is currently no need for additional cleaning buckets,” James said.

Through UMCOR and neighboring conferences, the Disaster Response Team has already distributed more than 4,000 buckets around the state, and thousands more are available through UMCOR.

Cleaning buckets offer a caring touch to families in need.

“Could they have gotten that sponge elsewhere? Yes—but they might not have gotten that hug and prayer,” Varner said, underscoring the importance of the buckets and kits. “That interaction is critical. When you’re a victim, you feel alone. We as Methodists and Christians want you to know you are not alone and we care.

“That hug and prayer might be the most important thing that a flood victim can get. It might change their life.”

In addition to the many cleaning buckets assembled by churches and donated to UMCOR after previous storms, the conference office has received a new supply of UMCOR cleaning buckets and health kits from the North Georgia Conference. These can be picked up from the conference office, or even delivered directly to a church in some cases (call for details and to be sure enough are still in stock: 800-390-4911).

Training to help

Conference leaders encourage anyone interested in helping with disaster relief to get trained for the ERT, whether they can help now or in the future; contact Robinson at [email protected] or 803-539-8429.

They are also holding UMVIM team leader trainings on three separate dates in November: Nov. 7 at John Wesley UMC, Charleston; Nov. 14 at Grace UMC, Columbia; and Nov. 21 at Advent UMC, Simpsonville. The training is for people who want to lead a team either locally or international; they will be trained briefly on how to help in this disaster. To attend one of the UMVIM trainings, email Lee McMillan at [email protected].

Varner said the conference is also seeking people interested in potentially becoming case managers, who will spend the next few years helping survivors wade through the recovery process. Email him to express interest at [email protected].

“We will work with the state and FEMA to make long-term plans for how recovery will both be managed and actually performed for the victims of this event,” Varner said. “We hope there will be a holistic response to meeting unmet needs.”

He and other leaders urged church not to self-deploy people to flooded areas but instead to coordinate through the hotline at 800-390-4911.

For more on the conference’s flood response and how to help (or get help):

Help for those hurting: Those hurt by the flood are encouraged to register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (800-621-3362) foremost. If they have insurance, they should also be sure to report the damage to their insurance company. The conference also has a hotline for people who need help or who want to get involved. In addition to the English-language hotline (800-390-4911 or [email protected]), the conference has also set up a Spanish-language hotline (844-344-2270) and website (

Related links:

United Methodists’ Spanish outreach provides help, hope after S.C. flood

UM chaplain shares tales of ‘ordinary heroes’ during flood search-and-rescue

Local churches reach out after S.C. flood

ERT crews serve as hands and feet for three sites in Greenwood

South Carolina ERT help in Holly Hill after flood

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