LOUISVILLE – It’s been two weeks since Hurricane Matthew devastated Haiti and moved into the U.S eastern seaboard. While the storm’s impact was not as severe as feared, it has caused other problems forcing thousands from their homes due to flooding.
In North Carolina, damage is widespread in parts of the state and communities are still dealing with high water.
“We’ve had two church buildings that suffered significant water in the buildings. That’s come down now, but they’re tearing out walls and getting ready for what comes next,” said Bill Reinhold, general presbyter and stated clerk for Coastal Carolina Presbytery. “Other churches had roof leaks because of high wind and missing shingles. But by and large, we came through pretty well.”
Reinhold says there are still people who are unable to get back into their homes because of the flooding.
“There are a lot of road closures that will likely be with us at least a month and maybe more as the highway department comes in and tries to make repairs,” he said. “Some bridges are washed out and many roads in low lying areas are just not there.”
The presbytery is gearing up for two major areas of long-term recovery. One is in the Lumberton / Fair Bluff area.
“The water is still receding in some parts and the city water system was flooded and inoperable,” said Reinhold. “They’re beginning to hook up some related county water systems into the city so people can get service. It’s been almost two weeks and some people still don’t have water.”
In Duplin County, east of Lumberton, there were communities that were completely submerged and work is beginning for the long-term.
“Fortunately, a pastor from one of the larger Presbyterian churches in the area has been coordinating flood recovery and working with several social service agencies,” said Reinhold.
Reinhold says Coastal Carolina and New Hope Presbyteries are working with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance about the possibility of sharing a long-term recovery coordinator to work with community wide recovery teams as they come in.
PDA engaged with presbyteries along the east coast several days prior to Matthew’s impact, offering help and support to all presbyteries in the storm’s path. Immediately after the hurricane, calls were made to the leadership of nine presbyteries.
“The week of October 9th, 23 National Response Team members were deployed to seven presbyteries from North Carolina south to Central Florida,” said Jim Kirk, associate for U.S. disaster response with PDA. “The teams offered ministry of presence to faith leaders, helped presbytery leadership assess damage and need, connected presbyteries to the larger disaster response, met with faith leaders and worshipped at impacted churches.”
Reinhold says church congregations have “jumped right in” to assist those in need. Churches have provided meals and shelter for those without homes, including one church that served more than 600 meals to state troopers and power company crews.
A group of migrant farmworkers was discovered in the midst of flooding, stranded by water.
“They were camped in a field where you couldn’t get to them without wading through water,” said Reinhold. “Now they are resettled and pulled out of the island they were on. As soon as they were found by Civil Air Patrol, help began to come in.”
Both Reinhold and Kirk say planning has already begun for the long term recovery efforts.
“Presbyterians across the nation have stepped up to make a positive difference. Shortly after the storm, an appeal was sent to our email list and information was posted on our social media pages,” said Kirk. “This will be followed by a print appeal to support the communities and congregations impacted by Matthew. In addition, Presbyterians have contacted our call center to offer their help immediately and for the long term.”
Reinhold says the Red Cross reported some 2,000 people in shelters from Florida to Virginia and that half of those were in the Lumberton area. “It’s traditionally been a poor county and they are really going to need a lot of support and help in the days and weeks to come. Civil authorities are already limited in what they can do. This storm has played havoc with an already fragile system.”
by Rick Jones, Presbyterian News Service