By Caleb Hennington
Digital Content Editor
In the weeks leading up to Hurricane Florence’s arrival on the Carolina coast, residents had been warned that this was not going to be an ordinary storm for the East Coast.
Although the Category 5 hurricane – with wind speeds of 157 mph or higher – was reduced down to a Category 1 hurricane – between 74 and 95 mph winds – by the time it hit the coast, the winds were not the main worry with this storm; it was the immense amount of rain that was going to be dumped on North and South Carolina for the next week and the flooding that would occur soon after.
Nearly 1.7 million residents from North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia were told to evacuate before the storm came ashore, but many residents remained anyway, whether out of an inability to leave due to finances or disability, or because of a fear that leaving meant they wouldn’t be present to protect their homes when the flood waters came.
For the ones that stayed in their homes when the storm came, they soon found out that they were at the mercy of the storm. Hunkered down in attics and lofts or left to wade in the waters as it filled single-story houses, their only refuge was the women and men who volunteered to head into the storm and rescue people from homes.
UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, is one group that is ready to assist in disaster relief whenever these big weather events occur. UMCOR – originally known as The Methodist Committee on Overseas Relief – was founded in 1940 by Bishop Herbert Welch as a response to those who were displaced during the bloody events of World War II.
In an address to General Conference that year, Bishop Welch stated that MCOR existed to “be the voice of conscience among Methodists to act in the relief of human suffering without distinction of race, color, or creed.”
These days, UMCOR still carries on that original mission set forth by Bishop Welch. UMCOR has three major areas of response: humanitarian relief and disaster response, sustainable development, and global health.
Janice Mann, who oversees the Arkansas Conference Disaster Response team along with her husband Byron, says that when disasters like Hurricane Florence occur in other conferences, the Arkansas team has to be ready and on standby to assist if the need arises.
During a conference call with UMCOR on Sept. 17, United Methodist Conferences from the affected areas gave a report of the state of their situation.
In the North Carolina and Western North Carolina Conferences, heavy flooding made it hard for emergency responders to get to the areas where people needed to be rescued from their houses. In addition, the storm surge and flooding caused sewage systems to rupture and waste to spread through the waters.
In South Carolina, many of the same issues exist, and they are expecting to need volunteers in the coming weeks and months to help with cleanup efforts.
Emergency supplies will be the main need for many residents recovering from Florence.
UMCOR Sager Brown, which deploys relief supplies to disaster areas around the world, currently has ample inventory in their warehouse, but if more supplies are needed once the cleanup effort begins, a call will be sent out to request donations.
In the meantime, some United Methodist Churches in Arkansas are already doing what they can to assist in the relief efforts.
Lakewood UMC of Little Rock has already begun putting together flood buckets which will be filled with supplies that will help residents recover from the storm damage.
Joe Roitz, Communications Director at Lakewood, said that the church has been working hard to put together these disaster relief buckets through various donation drives. He said the idea for the buckets came up after VBS last summer.
“The theme was Rolling River Rampage and we always used some type of mission drive along with our vacation bible school, so that year we decided to do flood buckets,” Roitz said. “So every day, the kids would bring their supplies or their quarters to help out. And we ended up with quite a few filled buckets just from the kids bringing supplies.”
Roitz said that when Florence arrived they decided they needed to get going collecting flood buckets once again and figure out a way to send them to the people that needed help in the Carolinas.
Each flood buckets contains different supplies that allow people affected by flood waters to begin the process of cleaning up, such as liquid laundry detergent, dish soap, household cleaners, air freshener, insect repellent, and other various items. A full list can be found on UMCOR’s website.
If you or your church are looking to help out with the disaster relief efforts for Hurricane Florence, visit https://arumc.org/our-ministries/vim-and-dr/ or contact Byron and Janice Mann at 870-861-5065. They can also be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.