GEORGETOWN — Kathy McWilliams embraced Gov. Nikki Haley Tuesday afternoon telling the governor she’s been a blessing to the city following last month’s fire on Front Street.
McWilliams was one of 13 people who lost their home when the fire broke out in the 700 block of Front Street Sept. 25. She said Haley’s visit to the city was comforting.
“It’s so good to see her here, you have no idea,” she said. “She’s gone way beyond to help. She hugged me. How many people do that?”
Haley met with the Rotary Club of Georgetown and Front Street business owners Tuesday before conducting a press conference.
“This is a community of inspiration,” she said. “This is a community that has really come together in a way that is impressive, but this is a community that has brought the whole state into it. The entire state of South Carolina is now watching and supporting Georgetown.”
From the state level, she said support started with an executive order declaring the site a disaster enabling business and property owners to apply for Small Business Administration loans. A second executive order followed shortly after allowing up to $1 million in federal grants administered by the Department of Commerce for rebuilding efforts related to public infrastructure.
Duane Parrish, director of the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, is advertising Georgetown as a place for families, and expects to spend up to $20,000 trying to get people back to Georgetown, Haley said.
The cause of the fire that destroyed seven historic buildings and damaged another remains unknown, but Georgetown Fire Chief Joey Tanner said he expects the State Law Enforcement Division’s report within the next week.
Mayor Jack Scoville said the progress of rebuilding has been amazing, but there’s still a lot of work to do before a complete rebuild can happen.
Asbestos was found in the site, Scoville said, but the amount and location has not been determined.
He said the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control has requested more analysis of the site and the city may help with cleanup.
“They weren’t our buildings, so it’s not the city’s responsibility to pick up the tab for the asbestos cleanup,” he said. “On the other side, we need the site cleaned up as soon as possible. As long as it’s not too expensive, I’d be willing to have the city pick up the cost of the test.”
The asbestos is contained and does not pose a threat to anyone in the area, Scoville said.
He isn’t sure who will clean up the rubble. It could be the Army Corps of Engineers or a private contractor. Scoville said if it’s the Corps of Engineers, cleanup would start quicker.
Brian Tucker, president of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce, said $150,000 has been collected from the Front Street Fire Relief Fund, and nearly $130,000 has already been disbursed. He said about half went to business owners to help reopen the stores and restaurants in new locations, about a quarter went to the displaced residents and the remaining quarter aided the 130 people who lost jobs because of the fire.
That broke down to about $3,000 for McWilliams.
“It was enough to pay a couple months rent, buy spices and things like that and people have been very generous with clothing,” she said. “But, I have to pay $70,000 on my school loans. I just got my master’s [degree] and I lost $31,000 worth of film equipment.”
She said her payments were lowered to $5 because she’s currently unable to make a living as a filmmaker and artist, and she is planning to apply for supplemental security income with the Social Security Administration.
“I have nothing now, just clothes,” McWilliams said.
Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381, or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_akelley.