All but two counties in South Carolina have been declared individual disaster areas by FEMA – Horry County and Charleston – frustrating officials who say federal red tape is delaying residents from getting needed financial assistance.
“Horry County has a lot of people who are hurting,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, who appeared before the county council Tuesday night to update them on the progress of federal assistance.
“It is perplexing to me, but you have to understand these people have a very large task ahead of them and the storm just hit last Saturday,” Rice said.
Rice, along with U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus on Tuesday afternoon toured Bucksport, Socastee and the beachfront areas damaged by Hurricane Matthew and the resulting flood.
Rice said he met with FEMA officials afterward to express the urgent need for the declaration so that residents could proceed with claims for relief. Rice said FEMA would not set a definite date for the decision, but he “expects it will be made shortly.”
“They assured me they were working diligently,” Rice said.
Rice said that residents affected by the flood don’t need to wait on the federal decision, but can go to his website and prepare their applications early. He also urged flood victims to call his Myrtle Beach office for questions or assistance at 843-445-6459. Those applications will also be available on Horry County’s website.
Randy Webster, director of emergency management, told the council that despite FEMA teams on the ground earlier in the day, federal officials are still asking for documentation and photographs of the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew.
“It’s a little bit disturbing that it’s taken this long to get individual assistance,” Webster said. “We have worked diligently to push information up, in order to get it.
“I don’t know where the disconnect is, but I’m very upset that it’s taken this long. I’ve been assured that it’s being pushed tonight as we speak, and maybe we will hear something tonight or in the morning,” Webster said.
More than 3,000 homes are in flooded areas, and hundreds of houses have flooded by the Waccamaw and Little Pee Dee Rivers as well as the Intracoastal Waterway. More than 250,000 residents were without power after the storm, but the power companies “pulled off a miracle” and got everyone back on line after a week, Webster said.
“It’s going to take a long time for the water to go down; we’re in for a long haul,” Webster said.
Meanwhile, the council unanimously approved a resolution allowing them to access money from reserve funds that can be tapped in case of natural disaster. Officials expect FEMA will reimburse the county for about 75 percent of what is spent.
“We’re still in serious times,” Lazarus said. “We are still in emergency status, and until all of our families are back into their homes … we will still be under an emergency declaration for the county.”
That means police will remain at checkpoints in flooded neighborhoods for safety and security reasons until the water recedes and residents can get back into their homes.
For those who don’t have family nearby or can’t afford a hotel, at least three shelters are still open in Horry County, including the James R. Frazier Community Center in Bucksport where 61 people are housed; Christ the Servant Lutheran Church in Conway where 10 people are staying; and only two people were reported Tuesday at the Church of Christ Grand Strand near Glenns Bay Road for Socastee residents.
More than one week after Hurricane Matthew slammed the Grand Strand, the Waccamaw River crested Monday night at a record 17.9 feet. The Intracoastal Waterway was at 19.09 feet over flood stage by Monday.
“Since Hurricane Hugo, this county has never experienced a hurricane even close to that until this past week,” said Councilman Al Allen.
In addition to housing residents who are expected to be flooded out of their homes for weeks, the county is also dealing with the mountains of debris caused by the storm, and more than 100 closed roads.
Once the disaster declaration is signed by President Barack Obama, homeowners and renters can apply for FEMA assistance for damaged homes, vehicles or other personal property. Disaster assistance would also include grants to help pay for rent, home repairs to primary residences, uninsured and under-insured personal property losses, and medical, dental, childcare and funeral expenses caused by the disaster.