BILLY ROBINSON Special to T&D
SC United Methodist Volunteers in Early Response Teams (UMVIM ERT) missions responded twice in the Fort Myers, Florida area in the wake of Hurricane Ian.
The Category 4 hurricane decimated parts of the Fort Myers area with 155 mph winds and tidal waves. Its deadly destructive path ripped through Florida as the deadliest hurricane to hit the state since the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935.
The infrastructure was so chaotic and affected that it took a month for United Methodist Disaster Response to be able to receive and sustain an out-of-state ERT. Meanwhile, in South Carolina we responded to the 45 mph remnants of Hurricane Ian in South Carolina, with ERT responding from Charleston to Florence, with Charleston and McClellanville receiving the bulk of the assistance requested.
From November 6-13 SC ERT Team Alpha responded to the Fort Myers area and stayed at Faith UMC with 28 volunteers, three ERT Disaster Response Trailers and 2 skid steers. We brought with us flood buckets and various supplies and donations for the survivors and the church.
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We were directed to the worst affected areas and focused our efforts mainly on the mud – cleaning up flooded homes that were completely exposed to up to 7 feet of salt water. We also placed tarps on the damaged roofs of three houses, did some chainsaw work and a lot of skidding and debris removal.
Up and down most of the streets there were still huge piles of debris that contained the physical aspects of many homes and lives, including water-soaked photographs and rare valuables destroyed by water and mold.
Mold was a major concern and we took all necessary precautions for our personal safety and the survivors who worked with us at several locations.
Category 1 Hurricane Nichole came ashore near Tampa on November 13th, causing us to leave a day earlier than expected and drive through stormy weather.
One flooded home we worked on was the home of Peter “Pete” Crumpacker, located three blocks from the ocean. His house had 6-1/2 feet of salt water and nothing had been done to it since the hurricane. It was full of all the family’s possessions plus furniture, appliances and mold from floor to ceiling
The UMV mission group responds to Ian in Vance
Petr, like many others, had no flood insurance due to the high cost of obtaining it. He lost a lot, but what could be saved, including the structure of his home, was critically endangered by mold and other such hazards. He needed to get everything out and soon sprayed.
Pete was constantly showering us with appreciation for our willingness to help with such a dirty and dangerous enterprise, to which we gave all glory to God. He began to tell how his wife was so overwhelmed with emotion and grief that she could not even return to their home. She was very depressed and struggling to cope with the whole disaster that literally almost took her and Pete’s life!
They decided to ride out the hurricane, which was almost a fatal mistake. Pete said that when the floodwaters rose in the dark of the night, they started climbing on top of the furniture and then the worktops to stay out of the water. As the water continued to rise, the refrigerator began to float and eventually they had to climb onto it to survive.
Pete took an ax and cut a hole in the loft so they could keep their heads above water. As he cut a hole in the roof, the water began to recede and their lives were spared.
Pete had such a wonderful attitude about him and was always smiling. We commented on his wonderful nature and he stated, “I am so thankful to Jesus that he spared our lives and realized that the rest are just material things. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
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Team leader Reverend Mike Evans tells of a man named Walter Graham whom his team was sent to help. “Walter was flooded and in dire straits. One company charged him $8,000 to remove the furniture from his house and it didn’t include removing all the cabinets, trim, sheet metal, insulation, etc. – the gutting, which we did.
Walter started crying tears of joy when he found out that our services were free. Walter talked about how our ERTs gave him new hope in the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation. He kept thanking everyone and we again directed all praise and glory to God who equips us, sustains us and is our Lord and Redeemer!” Evans said.
SC ERT Team Bravo responded from November 13-18 with 17 volunteers, two ERT trailers and one skid. Their first stop was at Pete’s house to tear out two bathrooms and then continued on to five more dirty/cleaned houses, skid work and barricading houses.
Team Leader Chuck Marshall said the people here are so devastated and depressed. We are so grateful to be able to shine the light of Jesus into their dark areas and bring them God’s hope and love. Our teams work so hard and diligently and I am so proud of them.”
Team leader Reverend Stephen Turner said: “Just because it’s still not in the mainstream news doesn’t mean everything will be back to normal – far from it – for years to come! We have to continue to pray and support people until it happens.”
Last year we were blessed with three new heavy duty ERT trailers and other ERT equipment from generous donations from across our conference, making this long distance mission possible as we deployed all three new trailers. We are still in the process of purchasing some of the materials needed and would appreciate any additional donations that can be sent to the conference office and sent to UMVIM ERT.
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Billy Robinson is SC UMVIM ERT Coordinator.