Presbyterian Disaster Assistance issues appeal for help in South Carolina

Floodwaters recede and the clean-up begins

October 15, 2015

Houses in Richland County, South Carolina during last week’s flooding.

Houses in Richland County, South Carolina during last week’s flooding. —Chris Beckham

LOUISVILLE

The rivers have crested and the floodwaters have washed out to sea, but the hard work of cleaning up is just beginning in South Carolina. The state was hit with a so-called 1,000 year flood, dumping record-setting rainfall totaling more than 20 inches in some locations. At least 17 people were killed; at the height of the flooding, more than 400 roads, 150 bridges and two major interstates (I-20 and I-95) were closed.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) has been working with mid councils to provide support, issuing an appeal to congregations and the general public. Gifts from the One Great Hour of Sharing offering are helping Presbyterian congregations to provide emergency items such as food, water and other supplies. Members of the PDA National Response Team have been assessing the damage, connecting with long-term recovery groups and representing the larger church.

“We have three teams in South Carolina meeting with Trinity, New Harmony and Charleston-Atlantic presbyteries,” said Rick Turner, associate for disaster response with PDA. “They’ll be checking with executives to determine needs assessments as well as going to damaged areas to see where we can help.”

In addition to the transportation problems, thousands of people were without electricity and drinking water for several days. Businesses were closed and emergency personnel were stretched thin. Crews have spent days fixing a breach in the canal that supplies drinking water to Columbia and contractors have been working to shore up small bridges. There are currently 300 people still staying in shelters and at least 200 roads and 100 bridges remain closed.

“The outpouring of support to help neighbors and friends has really been overwhelming. If there is a silver lining to the whole situation it is the response from people,” said Rebecca Timmons, an elder at Forest Lake Presbyterian Church near Columbia in Richland County. “One area may be overloaded with volunteers and when they find out another area doesn’t have enough help, they’ll send volunteers, supplies and donations there.”

Timmons says social media has been a valued tool in the process. Several Facebook groups have been started to keep people informed of needs such as meals, volunteer support, labor and supplies.

“We have a lot of infrastructure issues. Several dams have gone out with roads on top of them,” she said. “The road closures have resulted in a re-routing of traffic. One person’s commute is nearly doubled. It takes a lot more thought to get around town these days.”

Timmons says people need financial assistance more than anything else. In some cases, people lost everything in their homes including the homes themselves.

“Many neighborhoods around here had water up to the roof. You’re lucky if you only had two feet of water in your house,” she said. “Some of the houses have been here for more than 50 years and never saw flooding. Even newer houses built to withstand water in flood prone areas were damaged.”

State officials say many people still have no place to stay, being turned away from water-damaged apartments.

Meantime, “Gift of the Heart” kits that include hygiene and baby supplies along with flood buckets have been used in the flood response. PDA officials urge people to consider making new kits to replenish the Ferncliff Church World Service warehouse for future disaster needs. Information on the kit contents can be found at the PDA website.

Those interested in providing financial support can designate their gifts to DR000191 – U.S. Flooding. Click here for more information. All presbyteries in South Carolina and the Synod of South Atlantic have issued invitations to the PDA national response volunteer teams to assess the flood damage and provide a ministry of presence. People can also register their volunteer work team’s interest with the PDA Call Center. 

  1. When would it be appropriate for our congregation (Pleasant Hills, PA) to plan on potentially sending a "boots on the ground" relief team? I have started talking about this with some of the folks who have been doing post-Katrina relief work for several years and they're interested. Robert (Bruce) Webster

    by Robert Webster

    November 26, 2015