At the end of a busy strip mall, a line is weaving out the door. The Marion County Administrative Office is home to "Team South Carolina" -- a one-day event striving to connect local flood victims with recovery services. More than ten agencies, government and non-profit are organized at the back offering forms, brochures, and advice. Many here are from Nichols, one of the hardest hit towns by the flood that followed Hurricane Matthew. For most, it's the first step towards long-term recovery. Cooper McKim has the story.
In an impressively large space, a snaking line extends from one side of the room out the door of the other. Families, kids, and the elderly wait, craning their necks looking for the line's front. Representatives from several organizations rush purposefully around the room. Matt Brodie is among them -- he's with the United Methodist Church of South Carolina. He notes, "there's probably 400 people just in line standing here right now."
The event today was put on by the Governor's office in conjunction with the US Small Business Administration, the Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency, the Department of Social Services, the Department of Employment and Workforce, FEMA, and others. Today is the first of three Team South Carolina events occurring around the state. The other two will be in Ridgeland and Conway serving the Lowcountry and northeast. Today's event in Marion County is intended to help residents of the Pee Dee region.
All organizations present have collapsible tables set up at the back of the Administrative Office with brochures, banners, and forms. One older citizen steps out from the area with his daughter. Billy Wayne Jones is a long-time resident of Nichols, a small town of 260. He's here today because his home was ruined by the flood. He was raking his yard when he noticed cars on the adjacent highway were kicking up water. That water quickly got into his home. Due to the water damage, his home is all but ruined. Jones says, "they've torn out all the hardwood floor, carpet, padding, cut the walls up two feet, took all the duct work out from under the house... my house is just gutted."
Reconstruction has been expensive for Jones. He has sought financial help from FEMA, but never got a concrete answer from them. "They kept telling us it'll be seven to ten days and you'll hear from someone, but we haven't heard from anyone. We come today in hopes we can find someone to talk to." After finishing up, he says he had no luck -- the representative referred him back to their website.
Elsewhere in the long line was Georgia Green, an elderly resident of Nichols as well. She says she's been in line already for two hours: "I was here today to see if I could get some assistance, some food so I could replenish my deep freezer."
Unlike Jones, Green's house wasn't destroyed, but the flood did terrify her. "I just felt like we weren't gonna make it because just kept rising, rising, rising." She lost electricity for the next few weeks, her backyard was full of debris, and her deep freezer was completely washed out. She lost everything inside.
Green isn't surprised so many people turned out the all-in-one recovery event today "because I know a lot of people are hurting, and they needed help. There's much needed help here."
Governor Nikki Haley was present at the event as well. Initially, she helped distribute cleaning supplies and other essentials in take-away boxes. Later, she walked near the line and took questions from residents.
One woman, Sherryl Gause, asked her why she decided not to have emergency food stamps after Hurricane Matthew. It would allow additional stamps for those reliant on the SNAP program. Here's Haley's response:
Gause explains why she asked the question here: