McClellanville looks to repay Sandy-ravaged Toms River, N.J.

In the harrowing days after Hurricane Hugo nearly wiped tiny McClellanville off the map in 1989, a lot of people on the Grand Strand came to help.

I’ve talked to several of them, many of whom came as members of a church group. They brought saws and hammers and muscle and started putting back some of the homes destroyed by Hugo.

It was an extraordinary act of good will, especially considering that the Grand Strand itself was reeling from the wrath of Hugo.

One town hundreds of miles away went even beyond that call of Christian duty.

A truck driver from Toms River, N.J., witnessed the devastation in isolated McClellanville, which had been largely ignored by the national media, and thought it reminded him of his own hometown.

Back home, he made a public plea for help.

A radio disc jockey took up the cause and within days 38 trucks lined U.S. 17 outside McClellanville, loaded with water and foodstuffs and other basic necessities.

The caravan had been sent from the people of Toms River and the drivers had ignored all efforts to send them elsewhere.

Pat Gross, the town librarian, described the act of kindness in a story in the Charleston Post & Courier.

“Oh, gosh, those people were just wonderful,” she said. “Getting a truck of water was wonderful for us. The town was covered with pluff mud and they brought soap and washcloths, diapers for the babies.

“The governor had said all relief supplies go to Columbia. The people from Toms River said no – we’re going to McClellanville.

“Electricians came with parts and they repaired our breakers. This was at no cost to anyone but themselves.”

At the time, McClellanville did not have a fire station or even a fire truck.

“They brought fire trucks down here and even left an old one behind for us,” Gross told me the other day. The town now has a fire station and a much newer fire truck.

There is no way McClellanville can ever repay Toms River, but after watching Hurricane Sandy take aim on the Jersey Shore – including Toms River – it has decided to try.

It can’t send goods – for one thing, there is nowhere to store much – but it is taking cash donations through a town of McClellanville Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund that has been set up at Wells Fargo. For information, call McClellanville Town Hall at 887-3712.

Mayor Rut Leland says McClellanville and its 500 people can never match what had been done by Toms River, a city of about 10,000.

“Obviously, we can’t do what they did for us, on that scale,” he told the Post & Courier. “But I’m sure those people are going through the same nightmare up there that we did.”