Churches Join Relief Effort in South Carolina
Assemblies of God church staff members and volunteers continue to try to stabilize areas in South Carolina overrun by flooding on Sunday after three days of rain caused dams to breach and rivers to overflow.
Hundreds of roads and bridges throughout the state closed because of high water. Officials with the South Carolina Assemblies of God District reached their offices in West Columbia Tuesday after the building closed Monday due to inaccessibility.
South Carolina Superintendent Vic Smith said there haven't been any reports of major damage to any of the 91 AG churches in the district, although the homes of a couple of pastors sustained water damage.
"People have been forced to evacuate their homes and there has been a lot of destruction," Smith told PE News. "I'm thankful with all the flooding going on that we haven't had more loss of life."
The flooding death toll rose to 17 in South Carolina. Most of those drowned while trying to drive through floodwaters or died in weather-related traffic accidents.
Randy Knechtel, founding pastor of Vive Church in Columbia, drove to the church at daybreak Sunday and saw the parking lot flooded. Although water didn't enter the church, Vive Church canceled services as city officials issued warnings to stay off flooded streets.
On Monday afternoon Knechtel, Vive Church Executive Pastor Chuck Hill, seven part-time staff members, and around 40 attendees from the church helped bring potable water to residents without any. The 20-inch deluge on Sunday compromised the capital city's water supply.
The South Carolina Emergency Management Division reports shortages of drinking water have increased this week.
"It could be days, if not weeks, before municipal water service is restored," Hill says. "People have no water to wash their dishes in, no water to bathe in, no way to flush their toilets."
Vive Church rented a 1,000-gallon tanker trailer and on short notice, those from the church filled buckets and barrels. Volunteers in pickups and sports utility vehicles delivered usable water to affected neighborhoods so they could at least have enough water to stay in their residences temporarily.
Vive Church and Trinity Church coordinated efforts with Convoy of Hope, the compassion ministry based in Springfield, Missouri, that mobilized a disaster services team. Convoy sent a tractor-trailer load of water to the Palmetto State for distribution beginning Wednesday morning.
"Many communities have been inundated and we are responding," says Chris Dudley, Convoy's disaster services response director. "We are positioning ourselves near flooded areas and are poised to help immediately after the waters recede."
Convoy has established contact with the South Carolina Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster to identify needs that will shape the team's response in the coming days.
"Because the water hasn't receded yet, we have time to position our team in areas of most need and make solid connections with local agencies and partners who can help us respond effectively," Dudley says. "Though much damage has already been done, the worst is yet to come for some communities as the waters continue to rise."
Trinity Church founding Pastor Terry Roberts says the primary need at the moment is for bottled water.
"We have 40,000 people without any running tap water," Roberts told PE News. "Those who do have water are being advised to boil it before consumption because of contamination."
Columbia is at the confluence of three rivers, and a chain of lakes in the city is potentially creating another river as dams breached in a cascading fashion. Roberts notes that one of two city reservoirs isn't functioning because of a breached dam.
"Unless they can get that repaired, we could be in for a huge crisis," Roberts says. "We don't really know when the water is going to stop flowing."
Hill says Vive Church already is shifting gears to focus on long-term recovery, to step in to fill the void once state and federal relief workers have left.
"We want to develop a plan for the next several weeks as the floodwaters recede to have people on standby ready to help homeowners and renters who have lost everything to clean up," Hill says.
Roberts, who has lived in Columbia for 35 years, says he's never seen anything like this diluvial event. The fallout from Hurricane Joaquin is being termed a "thousand-year flood event" because of the tremendous amount of rain that fell in the area in three days.