Tennessee volunteers dubbed ‘minutemen’ after quick response to help after Seneca tornado

By Barb Christ

SENECA—In the midst of the coronavirus self-quarantine, disaster response teams from Tennessee traveled to South Carolina’s Upstate to help after an EF-3 tornado devastated the community.

The tornado hit Seneca and surrounding areas April 13, and early estimates report at least $250 million in damages that could take months of recovery efforts.

The Tennessee teams were United Methodist Committee of Relief disaster response teams from First United Methodist Church, Cookeville; St. Marks UMC, Murfreesboro; and the Tennessee Conference Caney Fork River District.

These volunteers are now being dubbed “minutemen” after their quick response to help in Seneca just days after the devastation. The teams headed to the ravaged town April 16 -22.

Minutemen were civilian colonists during the American Revolutionary War known for being ready at a minute’s notice, hence the name.

Furnished with two Bobcats and numerous chainsaws, the 10 “minutemen” volunteer team specializes in the safe removal of trees fallen upon homes. Working as a unit, these men cleared more than 1,500 trees, some as large as 36 inches in diameter. Some of the trees were on top of vehicles and some on rooftops.

Most of the men were older than 65.

Their help was in addition to the number of South Carolina Early Response Team volunteers and others who pitched in with aid after the tornado. ERTs mobilized Monday and arrived Tuesday, April 14, from Spartanburg, Greenwood, Anderson and Columbia districts and served as the initial reconnaissance team, determining which homes to prioritize and with which resources. The Mount Horeb UMC Disaster Response Team of Lexington specialized in tarp repair on damaged roofs.

Clemson UMC, itself with roof damage, served as disaster headquarters during the effort. Led by Senior Pastor the Rev. Fran Elrod and volunteers Jill Evans and Eddie Drasher, 175 masked volunteers joined the Tennessee team. They were given twice-daily temperature checks after completing initial health questionnaires related to COVID-19 susceptibilities. The Rev. Shawna Darnall, assistant pastor at St Mark’s UMC, Seneca, and other volunteers also served in the kitchen, providing food and water.

Sister UMCs in Seneca, Ann Hope and St. Mark, were in the center of the disaster zone, and their parking lots were used to feed folks and provide bathrooms, even with no power to the buildings.

Other UMC units are also to be praised, including South Carolina United Methodist Volunteers in Mission Disaster Response Teams.

Tennessee volunteers who helped were Ken Hunter, Steve Shoup and John Zimmerman of First UMC and Paul Givens, Charles Roberts, Roland Edwards, William Pollard and Butch Beasley of St Mark’s UMC.

“Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the friends, even though they are strangers to you” (3 John 1:5).

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