South Carolina’s ERT response after Hurricane Matthew: A reflection on Week One

By Billy Robinson

Hurricane Matthew hit South Carolina on Oct. 8, and the following morning United Methodist Early Response Teams were responding into the disaster zones to help our brothers and sisters whose homes and lives had been devastated by the massive winds that had toppled trees onto and into their homes.

Over the period of a week, ERTs across our state worked on 65 homes providing tree removal, placing tarps on homes and doing some muck-out of flooded homes.

Following are two of the many survivor stories:

The Halls’ story: neighborly love

That Saturday, the day Hurricane Matthew slammed into South Carolina, many emergency responders across our state started responding to emergencies as soon as the winds died down enough so that it was safe to do so. My wife, Trudy, and I responded with our volunteer fire department in North to various calls, including many trees down across roadways.

In the midst of it I received a text from Orangeburg County Emergency Services stating, “Urgent, give the Emergency Operations Center a call.” A major wind event from the backside of the storm had devastated parts of Orangeburg. We performed damage assessments and rallied an ERT response for the following morning starting at the home of Richie and Lisa Hall at 226 Perryclear Road.

Tears filled Lisa’s eyes as we made our way through the maze of fallen powerlines and trees to their home. More tears flowed as she told how her family had literally run for their lives during the storm that had severely damaged their home. Three huge pines were on and in their home, with several limbs penetrating into the living quarters. Trees were also strewn throughout their yard and even onto their neighbor’s home.

We feverishly went to work clearing the debris, and as the day wore on, neighbors began coming over to help drag limbs and even assist us with putting a tarp over nine holes in their roof. It became a wonderful, loving and caring community response that once again brought tears to Lisa’s eyes.

Tears continued and spread throughout many as Lisa’s small son asked that we all gather together for a prayer at the end of the strenuous ordeal that had the family back safely into their home, though they would go several more days without power.

John Fair’s story: a miracle

The following day found us at the home of 77-year-old John Fair, located at 255 High Street in Orangeburg.

When one of our damage assessment teams—comprising Laima Brunner and Janice Tocar—arrived on Monday morning, John started praising Jesus, and he praised our Lord more when our ERT arrived that afternoon. Half of his home was covered with a huge pecan tree.

John called our team inside to his bedroom stating, “I’ve just got to tell how good God’s been to me!”

He said, “I was lying in my bed when all of a sudden I heard a large crash. I looked up to see a big limb with a pointed fork on it coming through the roof and ceiling straight at me. I thought I was dead! And then, miraculously, the limb broke off and floated down, coming to rest beside me on the bed. Insulation and rainwater started falling on me.

“I was stunned. I knew that my home was damaged but I also knew that my life had miraculously been spared, and then your disaster response team arrived in the form of another miracle, as we had no one to help us. I just have to praise the Lord!”

We cut the limbs away from his home and applied a tarp over the damaged roof, and we went away with a new friend and very humbly blessed, through praising the name of Jesus, a man named John.

Robinson is the South Carolina UMVIM ERT coordinator.

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