No stranger to storm damage, Myrtle Beach area hopping with Sandy relief efforts

The Grand Strand is no stranger to dealing with the aftermath of hurricanes.

Myrtle Beach was just north of the eye of Hurricane Hugo when it made landfall in Sept. 22, 1989. It left 13 people dead and, at the time, was the most expensive storm on record, causing more than $8 billion in damage.

Recovery along the Palmetto State coast took months, which could have been years if not for the outpouring of support from across the country.

Perhaps it’s the knowledge of how devastating a storm can be and the helplessness left in the wake that has spurred many living on the Grand Strand into action in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Efforts by individuals and communities alike have been commonplace in the area since Superstorm Sandy brushed the coast near here before slamming into the Northeast on Oct. 29.

The storm left as many as 40,000 homeless in New York, killed more than 100 in the United States and left 8.5 million without power at its peak.. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that Sandy could cost the state $33 billion, and it has been compared in devastation as the most damaging hurricane aside of Katrina.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Jennifer Ranalli, a Murrells Inlet resident who went to New York at the behest of her stepdaughter to help with relief efforts. “It didn’t even feel like my country. There was such a sense of hopelessness. People were wandering in the dark in the middle of the night because there was no power.

“Whole houses were destroyed and sand was piled so high in front of others it looked like snow. I don’t think they even knew where to begin to clean up.”

However, it’s at those darkest moments that the light of one’s fellow man tends to shine its brightest.

‘Band-Aid on a broken leg’

Ranalli had never been to New York City.

However, when her stepdaughter – who works with Suncoast Resources in Houston – rang the bell, Ranalli answered.

The mother, who had lost her job at a Murrells Inlet restaurant about six weeks earlier, hopped in her truck and headed north. Her stepdaughter arranged for her to pick up a 300-gallon bladder, which was then filled with diesel fuel for her to take around and fill generators. Things didn’t begin too smoothly, however, when her GPS led her straight to the Holland Tunnel, which was flooded and closed.

“I pulled over to ask some NYC police officers where to go,” she said. “They wound up giving me a police escort.”

Ranalli made between 15 and 20 runs during her time north, making sure generators kept running for those operating cleanup equipment, nursing homes and stores.

She would still be in New York if she hadn’t had to return to take care of a child at home because her husband had to have surgery on Wednesday.

“It felt like putting a Band-Aid on a broken leg,” she said. “There’s so much more to do.”

Others lending a hand include a 12-person team from the Coastal South Carolina chapter of the American Red Cross. The volunteers joined 37 others from the regional chapter who are still aiding with recovery efforts until a team being trained now takes their place.

Nanci Conley, executive director of the local Red Cross chapter, said that the volunteers take care of feeding, immediate assistance and go through neighborhoods with food trucks, and will continue to do so until every household has electricity.

“We’re very fortunate because when a tragedy happens, I see the goodness in people,” she said.

Community kinship

Another reason Conley believes the support has been so spirited for the Sandy recovery is the ties the Grand Strand has to the Northeast in the form of retirees, visitors and those who have moved to the Myrtle Beach area.

One such resident is Jennifer Lynn, event organizer at Comedy Cabana. The former New York resident had a cousin who lost a house and three cars, as well as all of the sentimental items tied to a son she lost in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Lynn helped plan and organize a comedy night at the club Thursday that saw such nationally known acts as Steve White, Basile and Richie Minervini visit Myrtle Beach as part of a fundraising night. The club donated all proceeds from ticket sales and an auction and raffle Thursday night to the Red Cross and Salvation Army.

“We have tons of visitors and local from the Northeast,” she said. “We’re a small, family-run business so we do things for the community. It’s close to me, but I know it’s close to our customers as well, so that’s what prompted us to do this.”

Another Long Island native, former member of the NYPD and Surfside Beach Town Council member also helped spearhead a drive that saw two trucks full of supplies leave the Beaver Bar in Murrells Inlet for the New York area.

Beth Kohlmann said that a coordinated effort kicked off when she was talking about ways to help with Mike Fanning, a former sergeant with the NYPD and police chief of Pawleys Island. Friends Chris and Cathy Fisher were a part of the conversation and said they would donate a 24-foot truck, so the event spawned from there.

The only problem was, one wasn’t enough, which actually wasn’t a problem in anyone’s eyes.

“We had a really great effort by a lot of people so the truck filled up really quickly,” Kohlmann said. “The second truck left yesterday and unloaded this morning at the home of [N.Y.] Sen. Andrew Lanza. We’re working on our third truck now.”

Kohlmann said those involved, mostly retired law enforcement and members of Coastal Carolina Shields, felt so helpless and all wanted to do something. Some of the supplies sent were bleach, diapers, socks and nonperishable food items.

Of course, money is always needed for both the victims and volunteers alike, as well.

Modern fundraising

Conley said that there are more than 5,900 total volunteers in the ravaged area. Although all provide their time free of charge, the Red Cross provides them with food, lodging and other necessities that can add up quickly. Thankfully, there have been numerous events and donations to help fund the relief effort.

Another element that has changed is the way the organization goes about its fundraising. A potential donor used to have to mail a check or walk a donation into a Red Cross location, but now can make financial donations online, through texting and other means.

ABC touted a “Day of Giving” on Nov. 5 that raised more than $17 million for the efforts. Viewers were given text codes and phone numbers throughout the day where they could make a donation. CBS and NBC conducted similar events, and there were several telethons both nationally and locally.

“I had a couple last week just donate $1,000 online,” Conley said.

Monetary donations might be the most practical of any in most cases, according to Kohlmann. She said while putting together supplies is worthy and admirable, many could wind up in the wrong hands or stuck in a warehouse never reaching their intended targets.

“Destination is the key,” she said. “You can’t just ship donations up there. It has to be structured.”

That’s a tip to take to heart since the need for basic necessities is likely to continue for months.

Much more to do

Sandy is being mentioned in the same breaths as Katrina because of where it made landfall. Although the storm would have caused massive problems wherever it came ashore near the most populated area in the United States.

New York had a population of 8,175,133 in the 2010 census. By comparison, the state of South Carolina had 4,625,364.

“The density of the area is overwhelming,” Conley said.

Thus, fundraising efforts are likely to continue for months along the Grand Strand as well.

The area’s media outlets will be joining forces Monday at Broadway at the Beach for a Thanks4Giving event near Hard Rock Cafe. Representatives of The Sun News, local TV and radio personalities and other publications will collect money from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Those wishing to contribute can also make donations at the Conway Chamber of Commerce from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. the same day.

“I had a woman who couldn’t get through to one of the national telethons,” Conley said. “She was looking forward to going to Broadway at the Beach.”

The frequency of events that go through Conley’s desk can be overwhelming, although she’s thankful for them all. One such event she discovered Thursday proposed a fundraiser at the House of Blues on Nov. 30. Kohlmann said that the Church of the Resurrection at 8901 U.S. 17 Bypass had a relief effort under way but was having trouble getting boxes donated.

It’s those types of efforts that residents should expect to see up into 2013.

“I just had someone email me something that asked if I knew about something and I didn’t,” Conley said. “That happens a lot because this is a very generous area. It’s better the fundraising is spaced out rather than all at once.

“This disaster is a long-term recovery process and it’s going to take a long time to meet all the needs.”