Hope Flows Through Rising Water

By Leslie Moore

In September, Hurricane Florence made her way down the Carolina coast, battering our neighbors to the north, but leaving the Grand Strand mostly unscathed. What we didn’t realize at the time was how much damage the slow rise of our many rivers to history-making levels would cause, and how many people lost most, if not all, of their belongings to flood water. Most of those whose homes were flooded didn’t have homeowners insurance, nor do they have the means to quickly clean up and rebuild. Without the help of hundreds of caring volunteers from all over the Grand Strand, the work putting lives and homes back together just wouldn’t get done.

Sasee met with one such helper, and one whose life was changed forever by the help she received. Both of these remarkable women’s stories will give you hope; hope because of the abundance of goodness and love present in so many of the people we call neighbors and friends.

Jane Bernstein: A Little Help from Her Friends

Vivacious and attractive, Jane Bernstein is an x-ray technologist at Conway Medical Center. Divorced for several years, she lives in her home in Socastee, in the Harbour Towne subdivision, with her beloved Boston terrier, Fenway and two roommates. The Intracoastal Waterway is a stone’s throw from her front door. Known as a giving person, Jane volunteers for multiple nonprofits and is dearly loved by her many friends.

Medical personnel do not get days off, even for monster storms. “My neighborhood had a mandatory evacuation at noon on September 11th, but I was the on-call tech that day. It’s the hospital’s policy that if we feel we won’t be able to get in for our shift, we come to the hospital early and stay there,” Jane told me. She remembered how difficult it was after Hurricane Matthew in 2016 when there were days home alone with no electricity, so Jane decided to place Fenway in a kennel and move into the hospital for the duration of the storm.

“When I left the hospital several days later, the Socastee swing bridge was still open, but everyone was talking about the water rising and when it would crest.” Again, Jane knew she had to work and had very little time to prepare. After seeing a post on Facebook offering free sandbags, she decided to make her own post and ask friends to bring sandbags to her home while she was at work.

“My phone started blowing up with offers of help,” Jane remembers. Among the people who called and messaged, Dr. Scott Mencken and his wife Renee soon became the leaders in forming a volunteer team to help Jane. “Renee and Scott have children in Socastee High School, and they were all helping to fill sandbags. When she brought sandbags by my house and saw how close I am to the ICW, Renee told Scott they needed to get me out of there.”

It’s hard to understand the toll a disaster like this takes on people faced with losing everything. “I was terrified and didn’t know what I would do if I lost my home,” Jane told me tearfully as she continued her story. “When I got home from work, friends had brought sandbags and taken important family photos, jewelry and my files for safekeeping.” Another friend, Portia Brandt, offered Jane the use of her vacation rental in Surfside Beach.

That Saturday, a week after Florence moved away from the Carolina coast, Renee and Scott organized an army of volunteers to move Jane’s belongings out of her home. “They rented a 40 foot POD and a U-Haul, bought boxes, tape, bubble wrap…everything needed to move me out.”  Jane’s Rabbi, Avi Perets, at Temple Emanu-El in Myrtle Beach, agreed to allow the POD to be placed in the temple parking lot, safely away from the rising waters.

“I was working and didn’t have any time to pack,” Jane told me. A daily runner, Jane had just gotten back from her morning three mile run when everyone arrived to start packing. “While I was running that morning, I had a spiritual revelation. I realized that no matter what happened to my home, I would be okay. Suddenly, the fear lifted, and I just knew no matter what happened, I was going to be fine.”

None of the volunteers, from church youth groups, the hospital and more, would let Jane do one thing to help. “They packed everything into the U-Haul in two hours. I moved into a beautiful vacation home and even had flowers waiting when I arrived. A neighbor, who wasn’t leaving, took all my bedding, washed, dried it and cleaned the entire house.”

Water came within a few feet of Jane’s house, but not one drop came inside. All around her, homes were flooded, some beyond repair. Jane’s home had been spared. “Renee called me and said everyone would come help me move back into my house, but they ended up hiring a moving company, who came and put everything back in just a few hours. I just can’t believe how much was given to me.”

Even Fenway, the Boston terrier, was well taken care of while Jane was staying in her friend’s vacation home. His boarding in a local kennel was paid for by another friend and coworker who knew the $30 a day fee was a strain on her budget.

Life is mostly back to normal for Jane, and she’s able to resume her volunteer jobs including serving on the board of Carolina Master Chorale, a docent at Brookgreen Gardens and more. “I am so very grateful. My life hasn’t been easy over the past few years, but I know now that I am cared for and loved…no matter what.”

 

Christy Morris: A Quiet Warrior

Soft spoken and unassuming, it’s impossible to see the powerhouse that is Christy Morris until she begins to speak about her work. Outreach Minister and Family Life Minister at Seacoast Vineyard Church in Myrtle Beach, plus an active member of Impact Ministries, a non-profit organization directed by Todd Wood, that oversees all disaster relief in Horry County, Christy has been involved in helping those affected by the flooding since before the water even began to rise.

“Because I’m connected to Seacoast, I have a lot of resources,” Christy began. “And Impact Ministries is connected to VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster) through Waccamaw Community Foundation.” After the flooding, Impact Ministries had teams in Loris and Longs, Conway, and the Rosewood community in Socastee. Samaritan’s Purse also partnered with Christy’s group and, at the time of this interview, is still here working.

“We were the first ones on the ground bringing teams in to start the clean up and rebuilding process,” Christy told me. “Even before the flooding hit, we were out there helping people prepare.” While the waters rose slowly in Conway and Socastee, in Loris and Longs, it hit before those affected had time to prepare. “They barely had time to throw a few clothes in a suitcase,” Christy began. “In Socastee we had time to tarp homes and put sandbags in place, and even move furniture out in some cases.”

“This is my first disaster,” Christy reflected as she continued her story. “It’s been a learning experience. Unless you’re in the middle of it, you have no clue how hard this is for those whose homes were flooded. I live in Plantation Point, and in the heart of Myrtle Beach, life is going on as usual. No one realizes the hardship members of our community are facing.” In Socastee especially, because of where homes were built, and the geography of the land, it’s almost certain that rising water will affect homes. Christy went on to tell me that her volunteer teams put tarps on the outside of homes with duct tape before placing sandbags. “Those homes got the least amount of water. On one home we tarped, the water rose to three feet outside, but only three inches got inside.”

The reality of two major floods in as many years has hit people very hard. “So many homes didn’t have insurance, because they weren’t supposed to flood. And, half the people in Rosewood didn’t do anything to prepare, I think they had just given up after losing it all in Hurricane Matthew. It looked like a war zone – and still does in many places.”

Those affected by flood are eligible for some help through FEMA. But, before they can even apply, they have to contact their insurance company, even if they don’t have a flood policy. Once they’re denied, then they can apply to FEMA. “So far, most of the homes are getting from $15-19,000.  It is a good amount, but it doesn’t cover everything. Most people lost their appliances, furniture, flooring, kitchen cabinets, drywall and will have to repaint.”

Christy also stressed how careful volunteers have to be going into homes after flooding. Mold can be very dangerous. “Everyone wears masks and gloves, which are discarded each day. Getting in as soon as possible helps, but one family we’re helping in Longs, lives off Hwy 905 that just opened last week [11/2]. So that mold has grown and grown. In most flooded homes, we rip out drywall at 4 feet. But for this family, it will have to be completely replaced. Some people tried to save furniture, but that can be dangerous, as mold grows under the frame.”

Christy and her volunteers gut the homes, taking out flooring, drywall and baseboards and insulation. They then use fans and dehumidifiers, and when it’s completely dry, everything is sprayed with a special chemical to kill mold. Finally, the rebuilding can begin. “Unless you drive into these areas, get in there, wear the masks, smell the stench, you just don’t know.  Flood cleanout is one of the dirtiest, nastiest jobs.”

Many rural areas were left completely without help after the water receded. Bucksport, a community on Hwy 701 between Georgetown and Conway, is in the middle of nowhere and no teams were there working.  “We went to Bucksport after a call went out for help. There are quite a few families that flooded, and a church needs the entire sanctuary gutted and rebuilt.” Christy went on to tell me that her team spent a week helping the one family. “We walked into a gas station, and I had on my Impact Ministries shirt. Someone tapped me on the shoulder and asked for help. Her husband is an amputee, and she has no one helping her. The next week we were able to get a team in there to help. We have teams from other states also – from Florida, Texas, Alabama, and Virginia. Some of these people helped in Matthew, and some were here on vacation and asked to volunteer.”

Christy stressed that there is still a great need for assistance for displaced families. “We need money, of course, and gently used furniture, building supplies, appliances, kitchen cabinets, drywall…most anything that goes into a home.” The Waccamaw Community Foundation is waiting on a grant from Lowes Home Improvement that will continue to fund waiting flood assistance applications. The public can donate through Impact Ministries or Waccamaw Community Foundation.

I asked Christy why people stay in flood prone areas like Rosewood. “They’re stuck. They don’t have enough money to move. Most families have lower incomes, and what can they do?

Even with a few grants, most families won’t have enough to pay for everything. Having the work done by volunteers helps stretch every penny. People have been generous – Sherwin Williams is offering discounted paint, and we have a warehouse full of donated furniture. If you’d like to upgrade, contact us and we will pick up your items.”

From a young age, Christy wanted to be a pastor. Her grandparents on both sides were missionaries, and her dad was actually born in Nigeria while his parents were working there. While attending seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, Christy met her husband, Kevin, who is currently working for the City of Myrtle Beach, but is still very involved in working with the church.

As we finished our chat, this incredible woman told me, “As horrific and horrible as this has been, watching the community come together has been amazing – churches, schools, neighbors, businesses, city officials – all working together. It has brought our community together. I’ve done a lot of mission work, but I’ve never seen people come together on this scale. It’s been wonderful watching the giving, the working together, and the boundaries taken down, regardless of religion, race or whatever differences we may have.”

Christy’s church is not doing the traditional shoebox ministry this year, rather, they are giving Christmas to eight families in Rosewood affected by flooding. If you’d like to help, please contact Christy at 843-457-4791 or contact Impact Ministries at www.impactmb.org.

About this writer

  • Leslie Moore

    Leslie Moore

    Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.

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One Response to “Hope Flows Through Rising Water”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    These heroes walk among us. Great tribute to their tenacity and willingness to go above and beyond.

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