Sumter, S.C.—”Is it at the first step?”
“Is it at the second step yet?”
“Is it at the third step now?
The panic in Helen Brunson’s voice rose with the water level each time she replied to her husband, Larry, who was still at his job as a security guard.
When Helen finally made the decision to leave her home on Queens Chapel Road, the water in her yard was more than four feet deep and still rising. Helen, who stands a tad over five feet tall, grabbed her Bible, tucked it under her arm, found her purse, and waded through the cold, chest-deep water, as rain continued to fall.
“The farther out you went, the lower the ground became and the deeper the water was,” she recalled. “When it got up to my chest, I said, ‘Lord, I’m going to turn back.’
“But the Lord said to me, ‘I’m going to walk you out of here, and I’ll be there with you through the water,'” Helen said, bearing testimony to God’s goodness.
“I’m not going back there,” she told the three disaster relief volunteers, reliving her terror as she stepped into the small johnboat to retrieve some of her belongings.
Although she vowed she wasn’t going to live in the mobile home again, she smiled nervously and even joked with the men who ferried her across her yard through water that was still waist-high nearly two weeks later, as her husband trudged a few steps behind.
Hurricane Joaquin drenched much of lower South Carolina Oct. 3-4, killing as many as nine people, shutting down interstates and spurring scores of home evacuations. Reports of up to two feet of rain were common across the state, according to weather reports.
More than 650 homes in the Sumter area were damaged extensively by the torrential rains and two breached dams. Almost 20 bridges were washed out or closed, trapping many of the city’s residents seeking higher ground.
As of Oct. 25, 43 volunteers served on seven Kentucky Disaster Relief flood recovery crews, a chaplain team and a feeding unit that were engaged in ministry in the Sumter area. A total of 47 homes had been assessed for recovery or mud-out.
To date, 112 homeowner assistance jobs have been completed, which include everything from minor cleanup to more extensive projects. More than 1,250 meals have been prepared, and chaplains reported 74 Bibles and 99 tracts distributed, with 35 gospel presentations resulting in four decisions for Christ.
Several airmen from Shaw Air Force Base helped Kentucky Baptists on three days during the second week, lifting heavier furniture and removing wooden floors and door frames. Kentucky Baptists gave each a New Testament and a hygiene kit in appreciation for their hard work.
Overwhelmed by it all, at times Carolyn Mansuetti just had to sit down and cry, as she watched disaster relief volunteers carry furnishings from their home on Fawn Circle where they had lived for almost 30 years and set them on the curb as refuse.
Leo, her husband, is a retired Air Force veteran. On the walls of his study were presidential commendations and photos of planes, including a painting of the F-100 Super Saber in which he flew 239 missions in Vietnam and another that he had built himself and flown in various air shows. He also had once trained fighter pilots in Tulsa, Okla.
For him, it appeared to be harder to let go of some sentimental items. Decades of memories of his time spent in military service to his country and the life that he and Carolyn had built together filled their once-lovely home.
Their daughter, Julie, tried her best to lift their spirits, “Think of this as a chance to redecorate, Mom.”
Carolyn nodded and forced a grin. “It’s hard,” she repeated over and over as volunteers selected the furniture that could be saved, treated and stored on a tractor trailer until their house is rebuilt and that which they shouldn’t keep.
But as she looked at the bare studs and floor boards, ready for contractors to come install new walls and wood floors, Carolyn seemed to regain some hope. “Thank you!” she cried, as she hugged the necks of each of the DR volunteers when they presented a Bible to her.
“It breaks your heart, seeing their whole lives wiped out like this,” said crew chief Chris Cropp, a member of Fisherville Baptist Church, who spent two weeks in Sumter. “Loving and helping people—I feel God wants me to do this (ministry), and I love it.”
Cropp became involved in disaster relief when tornadoes ripped through parts of Alabama in 2011. He also helped in Liberty, Ky., in 2012 when tornadoes destroyed much of that mountain town. And, he was part of Southern Baptists’ Hurricane Sandy Rebuild efforts.
“We’re blessed more than those we come to help,” he added. “They’re fighting just to get it back together, and what little bit I can do is listen, reassure them and love on them.”
Yet, a Kentucky Baptist flood recovery team does much more. Drywall and insulation are removed down to the bare studs; door frames are knocked out; carpets and wooden floors are taken up; kitchen cabinets and appliances are carted off. The remaining structure is treated for mold, and left ready for a contractor to begin rebuilding the house.
In short, DR crews provide a sense of direction and restore a homeowner’s hope, Cropp said.
Susan Bell rescues cats. At times, she has kept as many as two dozen, maybe more, at her house on Briarwood. When the waters began to rise and she knew it was time to go, she cut a hole in her ceiling so the cats could hopefully escape. To her knowledge, they all made it.
As a disaster relief crew ripped out drywalls and removed wood floors and kitchen tiles, several cats darted in and out of the shrubbery, looking for food or a free hand to pat them. Their purring seemed to provide comfort and a sense of peace to Susan, who was so grateful for those who had come to help that she brought a pizza to them for lunch.
At the home of Robert Moses, a truck driver for a natural gas company, on Perry Boulevard, and at the homes of Hunter and Susan Hodges and of Ryan Dickson back on Briarwood, the story was much the same.
Dickson’s elementary-school aged son pointed to where water had risen as high as the fence in his backyard, when Kentucky Baptists presented a Bible to his dad. He was eager for the day when he and his brother and 1-year-old sister would be able to return to their own rooms and neighborhood friends.
“We’ve found out that doing for others brings us joy,” said crew chief David Hampton, of Corbin. “Mostly because people are so grateful.”
When Hampton retired four years ago, he urged his wife, Susan, to become involved in Immanuel Baptist Church’s disaster relief ministry. His first trip was to North Carolina, and they caught the disaster relief “bug” then, he said.
“We enjoy being around other disaster relief volunteers. They are such a family,” he added. “Some of our best friends now are people we didn’t even know five years ago.”
Kentucky Baptist crews stood down on Oct. 25, yielding to Alabama volunteers who are carrying on the work in Sumter.
“It continues to be a privilege to serve beside Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers who exemplify compassion for hurting people and a deep love for Jesus Christ,” said state DR director Coy Webb.
“As we close our response, I rejoice that Kentucky Baptists were able to bring needed help, a healing touch, and most of all, the hope of Jesus Christ to our neighbors in South Carolina,” Webb said. (WR)