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Charleston residents still reeling 10 months after historic flooding

Presbytery leaders say there’s still a lot of work to do

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Donnie R Woods, executive presbyter for Charleston Atlantic Presbytery and Sue Mathews, elder at Harborview Presbyterian Church in Charleston, continue to work to help families recover from October 2015 flooding. (Photo by Rick Jones)

The Rev. Dr. Donnie R Woods, executive presbyter for Charleston Atlantic Presbytery and Sue Mathews, elder at Harborview Presbyterian Church in Charleston, continue to work to help families recover from October 2015 flooding. (Photo by Rick Jones)

LOUISVILLE – While residents begin the recovery effort from catastrophic flooding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and parts of Mississippi, the people of Charleston, South Carolina are still dealing with the impact of their historic flooding. Between October 1-5, 2015, a stalled front packed with plenty of moisture dumped record amounts of rainfall, mostly in the Charleston tri-county area. Totals ranged from 15-20 inches with localized amounts over 25 inches.

Damage to homes and businesses was significant and hundreds had to be evacuated. Roads, interstates and bridges were closed for weeks and high tides only added to the record floods.

Fast forward to the summer of 2016, and work continues in an effort to return life to normal in the coastal community. For Presbyterian church leaders in the area, that work is just beginning. The Rev. Dr. Donnie R. Woods, executive presbyter for Charleston Atlantic Presbytery, says that in addition to the thousands of homes that were damaged, at least six Presbyterian churches were in need of repair.

“We developed a relationship with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance which led to the presbytery office becoming a hosting site for groups that came to help repair damaged homes and churches,” he said. “We got everything set up including showers, kitchen and other items that had to be up to code.”

Woods says the presbytery began hosting groups this year.

“It took a long time to get everything in place. We have learned there is still so much work to be done on the islands,” he said. “Some of the remote areas were devastated. A lot of the homes were not inhabitable at all.”

By developing partnerships with other organizations in the area, Woods says the presbytery was able to match incoming groups with construction coordinators. Most of the work has involved roof repair but there is still plenty of internal damage as well.

“Mold, sheetrock replacement, some times the entire interior of a home has to be torn out,” he said. “Some of the elderly impacted by floods did not have insurance, some were covered by FEMA, but most folks we’ve dealt with were left with a significant amount of repairs that need to be done.”

When the flooding occurred, Woods says churches easily connected with the One Great Hour of Sharing and there was an outpouring of churches wanting to do something and make donations.

“Various times when we had people staying at the presbytery offices, people would stop by and ask what was going on. We are then able to tell a story they can take back to their churches,” he said. “Several have commented that the One Great Hour of Sharing makes more sense to them now. They’ve seen it at work in our midst.”

Sue Mathews is an elder at Harborview Presbyterian Church in Charleston and works part time for the presbytery. She says the floods have mobilized local churches like hers to get involved and host out of town groups that come in to work.

“We had a group here with 51 people, mainly senior high school students,” she said. “It was quite a production to see them roll in here with their big U-Haul trucks and all of their vans. Our youth had an opportunity to interact with them and they really enjoyed that. This has really helped our congregation see what our denomination can do.”

For the longest time, relief groups were working independently and didn’t know what the connections were according to Mathews and Woods. PDA’s National Response Team members like Alonza Washington, have been helpful in providing guidance.

“After the flood, we surveyed all of the churches and put more than 150 people in touch with FEMA,” said Woods. “In the most remote places where our elderly members live, it was through the efforts of our churches that they were connected with those that could help. Our long term recovery committee has brought denominations together now to do more.”

Mathews says one of the positive outcomes from the flood was an awareness by the public service district about the need for better water drainage.

“They’re putting in larger pipes than they have had before for future heavy rains,” she said. “I have a friend whose house flooded twice. They have put pipes in that will do a better job of sending the excess water to the harbor.”

Both Woods and Mathews agree that there is less duplication of work now and various committees are working together to make repairs as efficiently and quickly as possible. They say they are getting good participation from government agencies and those agencies have a better understanding of what Presbyterians and other denominations are doing.

The presbytery is hosting volunteer groups to come and help with repairs.

“We make sure people who wish to come here understand that a lot of this work involves the replacement of roofs. We need people who can do that,” Mathews said. “We just want people to know that we are open to teams coming in. We may have a cold snap in January and February, but for the most part, teams should be able to work year round.”


For more information about flood relief efforts in Charleston, click here.

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