When rising river waters inundated the small town of Nichols, donated funds from all over the country also came flooding in. With the help of a recovery steering committee, the town is using the funds to help its residents recovery through two programs: the Owner-Occupied Housing Rehabilitation Grant Program and the Unmet Needs Assistance Program.
The two programs were created by Rita Pratte, SBP Disaster Recovery Advisor to the town. “I am working with the steering committee, helping them make decisions on how to spend their funds."
The Unmet Needs Assistance program is designed to alleviate the problem of any unmet needs while a household is actively working on a recovery plan with an approved disaster case management agency and/or construction company.
“For example, if they [the homeowner] used all their FEMA funds and some personal funds to rebuild the home, but the floor covering- they couldn’t offered to pay for the rest of it, they would come to the steering committee as representation through case management and then we would approve or deny that,” Pratte said.
The Owner-Occupied Housing Rehabilitation Grant program is the town’s home repair project. Volunteer agencies actively seeking to repair, rebuild or rehabilitate homes within the Town of Nichols (that were owner-occupied at the time of the October 2016 hurricane) will be chosen to complete repair work.
According to Pratte, as of May, the town has approved 11 projects collectively for both projects. "Three large owner-occupied projects and eight smaller un-met needs projects," she said.
Pratte said donations are still being made to the town, most recently was $100,000 from the Physicians Care Charity grant in Columbia. At that time, the amount of funds the town had was more than $300,000.
Of the 280 homes in Nichols, only 11 avoided devastation. In late June, only six of the town's 22 businesses had reopened. And according to redevelopment director and interim town administrator Roland Windham, it will be another three months before the town receives any FEMA money.
The town's two recovery programs are only one source of recovery funding available to residents. During a recent town hall meeting, Carolyn Johnson, disaster case manager for the South Carolina Palmetto Disaster Recovery program presented three small projects for the steering committee to approve or deny. The program focuses its efforts to meet the disaster-caused unmet needs of citizens in the 24-impacted areas from Hurricane Matthew. The program is managed by the South Carolina Disaster Recovery Office (SCDRO).
"My job is to secure resources as an advocate for the clients that were impacted by the hurricane that happened in 2016," Johnson said.
Johnson presented those three cases to the Nichols steering committee, because they didn't qualify to be funded through other programs she has access to.
"We actually work the cases in all counties and if those cases would be appropriate for SCDRO requirements, we send them over to SCDRO."
"Thus far, we've completed seven small projects and we have three big projects with rebuild/ repair with over $25,000 in each one of those three projects," she added.
During the town hall meeting, both Pratte and Johnson stressed the importance of residents connecting with a case manager.
"We can tell we are not getting the intake throughout Marion County that we should," Johnson said.
The case manager said they use data from FEMA, counties and what they observe when they ride around a disaster-impacted area to gauge how many intake clients they should average.
"Right now today, we just have a little over 500 clients in the Marion County area that have signed up for assistance and we know that its much more than that," she said
"Its really important for people to know that in order to receive services, they need case management," Pratte said.
She added a case management program like Palmetto Disaster Recovery or Catholic Charities can better vet clients and eliminate duplicating efforts in submitting required documents.
Nichols is also making significant recovery advances, when it comes to the Lumber river. Redevelopment director and interim town administrator Roland Windham said there is now a new river gauge on the Lumbar River bridge. The gauge will help determine the state of the river in a future flood event.
"It will provide flow rates on the Lumbar, the depth of the river and other meteorological data," Windham said.
Prior to the Hurricane Matthew, there was no gauge on the river.
"Residents of the Town of Nichols had no warning of the potential [flood] no immediate preparations were made, because no warning was given."