After pulling a 12-hour shift on Oct. 3, Archie Simmons just wanted to sleep.
A member of the state Department of Transportation’s road crew, he knew the forecast was calling for heavy rains. Still, the Conway native had hoped he, his mother and sister could ride out the worst of the weather inside their nearly 100-year-old home on New Road, a dirt path beside Lake Busbee.
They’d had flooding before, but the water had never made it inside the house. Simmons told his mother to wake him up in a few hours so he could check on things. He dozed off around 11 p.m.
“About an hour and a half later, Momma was shaking the daylights out of me,” Simmons said. “And I thought something had happened to her or my sister and they needed to go to the hospital. … I said, ‘What’s wrong, Momma?’ She said, ‘We’ve got no yard.’”
Simmons and his family escaped unharmed. They saved his sister’s car and his truck, but the house was a mess. Furniture, appliances and most family photos drowned in more than 3 feet of water. When the flood finally withdrew from the house, a contractor assessed the damage. It couldn’t be saved.
These days, Simmons rents a place in the country, waiting for Impact Ministries to finish building a home for his family on the same lot as their former abode.
The 51-year-old highway worker knows he’s fortunate. Six months after the flood, nonprofit leaders have identified nearly 250 Horry County homes that were damaged by the flood and still need repairs. They say coordinating an effort to fix those homes has been difficult and volunteer drives haven’t yielded the response they’d hoped for. Adding to those challenges is the fact that flood damage worsens as the months go by, with mold growing and roofs continuing to leak.
The floods are by far the worst. A tornado comes in and blows your house away, then the next day it’s a nice day. You can pick up some personal stuff, but they come in and they remove the debris and you can start all over again with construction and get your house back in a relatively reasonable period of time. The floods just keep on giving. We had the waters come through, then we’ve got the mold, then we’re getting sick from the mold. It’s just a continuous cycle.
Lou Palm, disaster program manager, American Red Cross
“The floods are by far the worst,” said Lou Palm, a local disaster program manager with the American Red Cross who has been on 16 deployments in his five years with the agency. “A tornado comes in and blows your house away, then the next day it’s a nice day. You can pick up some personal stuff, but they come in and they remove the debris and you can start all over again with construction and get your house back in a relatively reasonable period of time. The floods just keep on giving. We had the waters come through, then we’ve got the mold, then we’re getting sick from the mold. It’s just a continuous cycle.”
One of Horry County’s hurdles in responding to the flood is that, unlike Georgetown and Florence counties, Horry has no long-term recovery committee, a group of community leaders that works with nonprofits to assess damages and make repairs.
That work is critical. Individual assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) often isn’t enough to cover all the damage, and many affected homeowners had no flood insurance.
Nonprofit leaders say there’s been a shortage of volunteers to help fix those homes.
“The biggest need that we’re seeing for Horry County is that there is a lack of licensed contracting groups in volunteer agencies,” said Kelly Kaminski, regional coordinator for Catholic Charities’ Pee Dee office in Conway. “Right now, it’s kind of just on hold as to where to refer those clients that need home repairs done in Horry County because there isn’t any groups doing volunteer labor for free. So their really only option right now is to work with a contractor and pay for the labor and the cost of materials, which isn’t always realistic with their budgets.”
Kaminski did say the Hearts & Hands Disaster Recovery group can help homeowners find contractors who will work with them on pricing. However, there’s still a cost that homeowners may not be able to afford.
Although Catholic Charities doesn’t handle home repairs, Kaminski said she regularly receives calls from cash-strapped residents, many of whom need mold remediation or roof repairs. Although half a year has passed since the county saw more that 20 inches of rain in two days, the flood’s destruction lingers.
“Unfortunately, those of us that are working on the ground every day recognize the need for it,” Kaminski said. “But I think that the community has moved on to other things that are going on and might not realize that that need still exists. … I’m not sure, unless you’re getting the calls every day, that you realize how dire the situation is for help.”
Unfortunately, those of us that are working on the ground every day recognize the need for it. But I think that the community has moved on to other things that are going on and might not realize that that need still exists. … I’m not sure, unless you’re getting the calls every day, that you realize how dire the situation is for help.
Kelly Kaminski, regional coordinator for Catholic Charities’ Pee Dee office in Conway
When Hurricane Joaquin first unloaded on Horry, the response to the downpour from faith-based agencies was strong, said Todd Wood, executive director of Impact Ministries, a Myrtle Beach-based nonprofit.
“They all came in and began to help,” he said. “The problem was we didn’t get the word out through the media how people can request for help. And secondly, we weren’t clear on what they should be looking for. The only thing we talked about was the flood. Did your house get flooded? Well, that is a big concern. A lot of homes had water in them. But it’s the homes that did not have water in them but had water underneath the home, those are the ones that began calling two months, three months, four months after the storm saying, ‘I’ve got mold growing up my house. It’s growing going up my walls. It’s in my ceilings.’”
Nonprofits such as Catholic Charities, Impact Ministries and the United Way are part of a local group called Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD), which assists communities after a storm, flood or other large event.
Those agencies identified 249 families immediately after the flood who needed home repairs. Wood led teams that took down soggy sheetrock, stripped warped flooring and pulled out ruined insulation. Two months ago, nonprofit leaders called those same homeowners again to check on the condition of their property.
“Over 80 percent of those homes are in the same condition they were in when we left them at the mud out,” Wood said. “So we desperately need volunteer teams here to do more follow-up work.”
Some other South Carolina counties have specific committees dedicated to managing long-term recovery in their communities.
Florence County created one in November in response to the flood, said Palm, the Red Cross manager who also chairs Florence County’s recovery committee.
“I will tell you that it’s hard work,” he said. “I’m 64 years old. This is one of the hardest things I’ve done since I was 18 in Vietnam. This is hard work to get communities mobilized.”
Palm said the Florence committee has identified and prioritized 70 cases. He hopes to begin repairs in May.
“Everybody wants to work really fast,” he said. “I was one of the guys who wanted to be way out front of this. They have issues of fundraising. They have issues of securing volunteers, bringing teams in, most of whom come from faith-based organizations. There’s just so much.”
There’s a lot of families out there that are still needing help bad. … There’s a lot of people in this county that’s been forgotten.
Archie Simmons, Conway flood victim
Local nonprofit leaders are puzzled by the lack of interest in forming such a group in Horry and in the shortage of volunteers. Recently, they held a public meeting at the Carolina Forest Recreation Center to sign up volunteers. They’d advertised the meeting for two weeks and had wanted to find retired contractors and tradesmen willing to give time to fix flooded homes.
No one showed up.
“I’ll tell you what I’ve learned through this process,” Palm said. “Leaders are harder to find than donated dollars.”
Public officials also know the process can be better. Horry County recently released an after-action report on the flood that looked at possible improvements. The recommendations included coordinating communication between emergency officials and nonprofits and identifying the services each agency can provide and a point of contact before a disaster. The report also says that during an event there should be weekly updates on the unmet needs of the community so agencies can assist the destitute.
“There’s always lessons to be learned on every event,” Horry County Emergency Management Director Randy Webster told county council’s Public Safety Committee.
Despite the difficulty in responding to such widespread damage, there have been bright spots.
Wood said he received $25,000 in grant money for home construction. He used $5,000 on repairing flood-damaged houses and spent the final $20,000 on a new home for Simmons and his family. He coupled that money with the $14,000 Simmons received in FEMA assistance. Like he’s done with other Impact Ministries projects, Wood relied on volunteer labor and donated materials to keep costs low.
The new house has been a slow build, and Wood is searching for volunteers to finish the project. Sitting high off the ground, the three-bedroom home covers just more than 1,000 square feet and even has an elevator for Simmons’ disabled sister and mother to use.
“Without him and Impact Ministries, this would not have happened,” Simmons said. “You would still be looking at an empty lot and us still trying to scramble to try to find enough money to pay rent.”
He knows some Horry homeowners lost their houses in the flood. Others have been unable to return because of mold problems.
For them, the disaster isn’t over.
“There’s a lot of families out there that are still needing help bad,” Simmons said. “There’s a lot of people in this county that’s been forgotten.”
Want to help?
For those 18 and older, apply to help the Horry County Emergency Management team with various activities by filling out the volunteer application, background check form and volunteer acknowledgement of policies forms. Completed forms can emailed to Vickie Burkett at email@example.com, or mailed to 2560 Main Street, Ste 4., Conway, SC 295626.
Forms are available on the Horry County Government website at horrycounty.org/departments/volunteers.