Early Response Teams from the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church this week began assisting homeowners in Marion whose houses were flooded in the wake of Hurricane Florence.
ERTs can’t move into areas affected by storms until local emergency management officials notify them that it is safe to do so.
Initial local flooding from heavy rains that accompanied the Sept. 14 storm has been compounded by subsequent river flooding that is projected to continue for several days along the Great Pee Dee, Little Pee Dee, Lumber, Lynches and Waccamaw rivers.
So far, about 2,000 South Carolina homes have suffered flood damage, state officials say, but thousands more are likely to be reported in coming weeks. About 4,000 South Carolinians already have registered for assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Administration, FEMA officials said Wednesday.
At least seven United Methodist churches in the Marion District have reported flood damage to their sanctuaries or other facilities.
About 30 specially trained ERT members began working this week at homes in and around Marion, helping residents with cleanup efforts.
“I am really excited that the ERTs are here,” said the Rev. Tim Rogers, superintendent of the Marion District. “To have people willing to give their time and to respond while the event is still going on says a lot about their commitment; it says a lot about our church’s desire to be there for people who are in need.
“I’m always blessed to see the kinds of gifts and abilities the volunteers bring to the work and their willingness to leave their homes for days at a time to help complete strangers. It’s a great testimony.”
That testimony came through loud and clear for retirees George and Vertell Gause, whose one-story home on Mullins Street was inundated with flood waters for the second time in two years. Hurricane Matthew blew through and flooded their home in 2016. They are staying across town with their son, and they doubt they’ll be able to move back home after this flood.
Volunteer ERT members on Tuesday removed from the Gauses’ home all of the furniture, appliances and other belongings made unusable after soaking for three days. They also began “mucking out” the home, removing paneling, flooring and trim – some of which already showed signs of mold growth. A chainsaw crew also cut up and removed from the front yard a large tree trunk felled during the storm.
“These people mean so much to us because we couldn’t do it by ourselves,” said Vertell Gause, 70. “My husband’s health is not good, so having someone help us carry all of this stuff out of here and cutting up that big tree that fell, we just appreciate it.
“I just thank the Lord for sending the Methodist Church to help us out.”“These people mean so much to us because we couldn’t do it by ourselves,” said Vertell Gause, 70. “My husband’s health is not good, so having someone help us carry all of this stuff out of here and cutting up that big tree that fell, we just appreciate it.
The volunteers, in turn, thanked God for the opportunity to serve others.
“I see all of these people who have next to nothing, and they’ve lost what little they have,” said Sue Miller, a member of New Beginnings United Methodist Church in Boiling Springs. “It just breaks my heart, so I just have to do whatever I can.
“And I get back a thousand times what I give.”
Chuck Marshall, disaster response coordinator for the Spartanburg District, appreciates how the volunteers work together.
“We have ERT teams and individuals from churches all over the state,” he said. “We come together and divide up into work teams based on what’s needed. Sometimes you’re working with someone you go to church with, sometimes you’re working with someone you’ve never met.
“But we’re all one conference team.”
One block over from the Gause home, Debra Williamson and her son, Devon, also found themselves cleaning up for the second time after a disastrous flood.
The 56-year-old single mother lives with two of her four adult children in the home that she built on McEachern Heights more than 30 years ago.
“I’ve spent over $40,000 trying to get everything back in shape after Hurricane Matthew – and this storm just destroyed it all again,” she said. “We had just gotten comfortable, settled back in, starting to put pictures up.”
Williamson and her son spent much of Tuesday going through their possessions, finding a few items that could be salvaged, shoving the rest into garbage bags.
None of their furniture and large appliances were among what could be saved.
“I’ve been crying since last Sunday,” she said. “Emotionally, I’m just destroyed.
“But these are some good people working here, very good people. I thank them so very much. They’ve brought some hope to my family.”
Like her neighbors, Williamson doubts she will be able to rebuild and move back into her home.
UMCOR help on the way
The United Methodist Committee on Relief has dispatched two tractor-trailer trucks loaded with some 3,800 flood/cleaning buckets. One truck arrived Wednesday afternoon, and the second is expected within a few days.
The buckets will be housed at warehouses, allowing South Carolina United Methodist churches in the affected areas to pick up a load, take them back to their communities, and give them away to those who need them.
S.C. ERTs at work