After the hurricane: disaster volunteers desperately needed

By Jessica Brodie

As United Methodist disaster response leaders continue to pick up the pieces after Hurricane Matthew devastated the coastal Southeast, they are issuing their biggest need: people to serve on early response and other teams.

“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,” said Matt Brodie, the South Carolina United Methodist Conference’s disaster response coordinator. “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.”

Volunteer are needed in a number of capacities, particularly to serve on the South Carolina Conference’s United Methodist Volunteers in Mission Early Response Team. ERT members do initial response after a disaster—anything from mucking out homes to tarping roofs to clearing tree limbs. No construction background is needed, and duties include anything from picking up debris and removing items from homes to more intensive labor, such as using a chainsaw or securing a roof. Volunteers must pass a background check and stay current on training, and any skill level is welcome.

“You just need a heart willing to help,” Brodie said. “If you can do basic yard work, you can do this.”

One of the many places teams will serve is the town of Nichols, in South Carolina's Marion District near Mullins, which is completely underwater as of Oct. 13 because of rising floodwaters from the nearby Lumber River, Brodie said. State officials are estimating that 99 percent of the structures will be destroyed. The UMCSC will be working with the state and local government in the recovery efforts, including teams, relief supplies and other resources as identified.

ERT trainings will be held Oct. 22 in Columbia; Oct. 29 in Pickens; and Nov. 5 in Boiling Springs. Cost is $35. Contact Gail Corn to sign up at [email protected] or 803-786-9486, ext. 318.

Beyond ERT members, volunteers are also needed to serve as damage assessors, who drive around neighborhoods and communities and visit individual homes to determine the specific help needed. To volunteer as an assessor, contact the disaster hotline at 800-390-4911 or email [email protected].

And volunteers are also needed to assemble health kits and cleaning buckets (learn how to assemble here), which are given out to disaster victims. Coordinate distribution of these directly with your district’s disaster response coordinator (click here for district DRC contact information).

“We’re moving forward in the process,” Brodie said. “This, like the flood, is not going to be a quick fix. 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.”

Latest work

[caption id="attachment_5160" align="alignright" width="300"]Photo by Victoria Barlow Victoria Barlow took this photo of the seawall cross at Belin Memorial UMC, Murrells Inlet, at the height of Hurricane Matthew. Barlow is a member of Belin Memorial.[/caption]

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 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.

Assessment had to pause in certain areas of the Marion and Florence districts today as those areas are experiencing re-flooding, which is compounding an already-difficult situation.

“They’re getting hit with rivers that have crested and dams that have broken, and Conway and other areas have had to be evacuated, so we’re waiting for those areas to go down so we can go back in and assess,” Brodie said.

Other areas, like Charleston, Bluffton and Hilton Head Island, have assessors on the ground now and reporting back so ERTs can go in and help.

“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 the Southeastern Jurisdiction, and we’ve got a few teams coming from out-of-state that will arrive by the end of the week,” Brodie said, again urging people to get trained to serve as an ERT member.

The UMCSC is working with state officials and other organizations to coordinate response, as well, to ensure it is not working in a silo, he said.

The Florence District has given out more than 400 cleaning buckets and 200 health kits to local residents as they wait on teams, and more buckets are expected to arrive in the Charleston and Walterboro districts this week.

Other needs: money and supplies

Beyond volunteers, disaster response leaders say they have a vast need for financial donations (click here to give online today), as well as donations of supplies for ERT and other teams, such as tools. The UMCSC received an emergency $10,000 grant from the United Methodist Committee on Relief that will help with getting supplies, materials and resources to equip the ERTs to do their work, but more is needed, Brodie said. To donate supplies, contact your district’s disaster response coordinator (click here for district DRC contact information).

They also need churches in affected areas to house disaster response teams and act as distribution centers for relief supplies. Contact Brodie at [email protected] or 803-786-9486, ext. 265, if your church can help.

If you need help

If you need disaster assistance, call your insurance company and then contact the UMCSC disaster response hotline at 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 21 people died in the United States as a result of the storm, including three 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.

Jessica-square350Jessica Brodie is editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate. She can be reached at [email protected].

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