Church helps after devastating hurricanes; funding issues next big challenge
By Jessica Brodie
First came Hurricane Harvey, devastating the Gulf Coast Aug. 25 and leaving more than 80 people dead, 30,000 displaced and billions of dollars in losses in its wake.
Next up was Hurricane Irma, initially a Category 5 storm making a beeline for the Georgia-South Carolina border as thousands of coastal residents evacuated. More than 100 people in Florida, Georgia and the Caribbean died as the monstrous storm gained traction. But as the days passed, the storm swerved west and missed much of this state, though it left a swath of downed trees, power outages and flooding Sept. 11 as it went.
On its heels was Hurricane Maria, also a Category 5 that, as of press time Sept. 22, had crippled Puerto Rico and the island of Dominica and claimed at least 15 lives.
“It’s been a very busy hurricane season, and in many ways it’s been a record-setting season,” said Matt Brodie, disaster response coordinator for the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church. He said two Category 5 hurricanes have already hit this year, and Irma made headlines as the strongest hurricane ever to form in the Atlantic outside the Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico. “For longtime residents of South Carolina, it’s also brought back a lot of memories of Hurricane Hugo and the pain, anxiety and devastation it caused us 25 years ago.”
While most of this state was spared the worst so far this year, small pockets of South Carolina were hard-hit by Irma, particularly in Charleston and the Upstate. Now, in the aftermath of the storms—and as they keep a watchful eye on the weather for what might come next—South Carolina United Methodists are doing what they can to help storm victims here, as well as across the Southeast.
From assembling cleaning buckets, health kits and school kits to deploying disaster response teams to the areas with the most need, the church is stepping up in a variety of ways to be the hands and feet of Christ.
But as far as in-state disaster response, things are looking far different this year than the past two years—and it all boils down to money.
“While the damage wasn’t as catastrophic or as costly as Hurricane Matthew and the flooding wasn’t as severe, South Carolina did not end up being declared a federal disaster, so there are no federal dollars coming in, and the agencies and groups that typically come in with those federal dollars and those resources are not here,” Brodie said. “But that doesn’t mean that there weren’t people greatly affected by the storm that will need help to get through it, and because of that, it’s a different kind of response than we’re used to because the church really is the first and only line of support for some of these people.”
He said it will be a strong opportunity for God’s people to step up and fill the gap, connecting communities and churches with those who don’t have the resources to rebuild on their own.
“Essentially, we now have to learn how to do long-term recovery without those federal resources,” Brodie said, noting that he and other conference disaster response leaders are developing their strategy to do that, even as they do relief work here and elsewhere.
In the aftermath of Harvey, South Carolina United Methodist Volunteers in Mission Early Response Teams were mobilizing to head to Texas as soon as Texas said it was ready—except as soon as Texas was ready, South Carolina was facing its own disaster in the form of Irma, so local teams stayed put to prepare.
Since Irma, ERT crews have been busy in pockets of South Carolina dealing with damage, from flooding to downed trees, largely in the Greenwood, Greenville and Anderson districts. Most of the issues in Charleston were handled locally, disaster leaders said.
But they’re also reaching beyond this state. As the Advocate went to press, a team of South Carolina ERTs was preparing to head to South Georgia for Irma relief, and more teams will head out Oct. 1 to Florida and elsewhere in Georgia.
ERTs are working to get homes safe and secure both in South Carolina and elsewhere.
Then, Brodie said, just like with last year’s Hurricane Matthew, disaster relief will transition into the recovery stage.
“But what the recovery stage looks like is going to be unique because of the funding,” Brodie said.
South Carolina impact
Billy Robinson, ERT coordinator for the conference, said most of the Irma damage in South Carolina was wind-driven, with downed trees being the majority of their calls so far.
“It’s mild compared to last two years, but if you’re one of the homes hit, its not mild—it’s a disaster to that home and that family,” Robinson said.
Danny Thompson, disaster coordinator for the Anderson District, said the Pickens area was badly hit, and one lady in Townville had a tree on her house that was so large—and the brush was so thick—that it took ERT crews several days to get it off her house.
Thompson’s own neighborhood lost power for three days, and no one in his neighborhood could leave because of a downed tree on the main road. Both he and the ERT trailer were stuck until they were able to cut their way out.
He and his team are doing what they can to assess homes and help as able.
“There are still people here in South Carolina that have need, whether it’s a roof leak or shingles off,” Thompson said.
The Rev. Mike Evans, Greenwood District disaster coordinator, said his team partnered with emergency management in the seven counties they cover.
“With the fire departments, South Carolina road maintenance crews and power crews, we went around together and cleared roads and worked together on trying to get things cleaned up,” Evans said.
They also pitched in to help other districts, including Anderson.
But what made Evans especially proud of his denomination were the way churches and individuals immediately stepped up to help when asked. In the Greenwood District alone, $9,000 has already been raised for cleanup efforts, and they are planning a massive cleaning bucket packing party at their local Lowe’s when all the supplies arrive.
Beyond ERT work, churches across the state have been assembling cleaning buckets, as well as health kits and school kits for storm victims. After Harvey, South Carolina delivered a trailer load of cleaning buckets and health kits to the United Methodist Committee on Relief warehouse in North Carolina to give to those in need in Texas and elsewhere in the path of the storm.
Since Irma, churches have continued assembling storm relief supplies, and in late September, Brodie took 1,359 health kits, 87 school kits and 365 cleaning buckets to UMCOR’s warehouse for victims of Irma and other storms. (Learn how to assemble buckets and kits at www.umcor.org.)
In addition to prayer, Brodie said there are two critical needs he hopes South Carolina United Methodists will consider.
One is funding; he urged people to give to South Carolina disaster response through www.umcsc.org, which will enable this conference to do ERT and long-term recovery work in South Carolina far into the future. He said people can also give to help the national disasters at www.umcor.org; he said UMCOR’s materials fund is especially in need right now.
The second need is for people to train to be ERTs. There are several daylong trainings scheduled throughout the state in October:
- Friday, Oct. 6—Mount Horeb UMC, 1205 Old Cherokee Road in Lexington. To register: Brittany Morris at [email protected] or 803-490-0160.
- Saturday, Oct. 7—Zion UMC, 5708 Hwy. 187 North in Anderson. To register: Mark Springer at [email protected] or 864-367-8047.
- Saturday, Oct. 21—Covenant UMC, 1310 Spartanburg Road in Greer. To register: Mark Springer at [email protected] or 864-367-8047.
All trainings are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The fees are $35 per person, which includes a manual, shirt, cap and badge. There is a $10 fee for renewals.
For more information about becoming an ERT, contact Robinson at 803-539-8429 or [email protected].