“Heartbreaking and heartwarming.”
Eugenia Hardwick described the scene around her in a friend’s east Columbia yard, where heaps of unsalvageably soaked possessions lay pulled from the house. All along Kilbourne Road and in the neighborhood behind it, similar scenes unfolded, flanked by lines of cars that had pulled in just to offer help.
Volunteers clogged the hard-hit neighborhood bordered by Gills Creek and Lake Katherine, behind Whole Foods near Fort Jackson, where historic rainfall this weekend caused unprecedented flooding.
Even if the floods didn’t reach their houses, the people of the Midlands and beyond felt the deeply devastating effects of the weekend’s catastrophic weather.
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“I’m just amazed at all these people that are helping people that they don’t know, or they didn’t know before,” Hardwick said.
Sixteen-year-old Russell Isaacs and his family were lucky enough not to feel the hurt of the floods. But he felt the hurt of his community, all the same, and that drove him to action.
On Wednesday, he and his mother, Tammy Neff, rallied a group of boys from the A.C. Flora ROTC program and the Columbia chapter of DeMolay, an international young men’s organization, and descended on Kilbourne Road, ready to assist. With swarms of other volunteers, they helped homeowners gut their drenched houses.
In that neighborhood, floodwaters rose several feet in many houses, even above the roofs of some, neighbors said.
“Your eyes are opened to how lucky you are, and other people weren’t as lucky,” Isaacs said. “I just wanted to help them through this time of need.”
At a news conference Wednesday, Gov. Nikki Haley saluted all the volunteers who were showing up to do this kind of work.
Haley said the flood has brought out “neighbors helping neighbors and people helping strangers.”
“We are people of compassion,” she said.
Mallory Gore, a 17-year-old student at Ben Lippen School, came to the neighborhood at the foot of Lake Katherine with a youth group from Columbia’s First Baptist Church despite hobbling along on a crutch.
“I can’t do much physical (work), but I can help brighten people’s day,” she said.
Gore was part of a group that her older sister, Brittany Hoffman, led from First Baptist in downtown Columbia. Hoffman said the group came because “the city is hurting.”
Hoffman, a teacher in Richland 2, and many of the teens have the time off from school as the city and county continue to recover from the flooding.
They were directed to the Kilbourne area by church groups who had been checking in with different authorities about where to go to give help. She said more than 100 young people from the church spent the day handing out drinking water, running supplies to different areas and helping clean up at homes.
Some members of downtown’s Midtown Fellowship forewent Bible study to come help clean up the neighborhood instead.
“We’re trying to help out any way we can,” George Thomas said. “Most of us were fortunate enough not to be affected.”
Another group came down from the Christian Life Church in the St. Andrews area.
“How can we take it easy when our community is suffering?” said Sonia Isom.
Another church member, Samuel Burton, said the work has been hard, “but this community was hit hard.”
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307. Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.
Meanwhile, at the other end of Kilbourne ...
Teachers and staff from South Kilbourne Elementary, in the Rosewood neighborhood, spent Wednesday organizing and delivering donations of water, food, clothing, school supplies and learning packets to their students, many of whom live in the low-lying area near South Beltline Boulevard, just off of Gills Creek.
Among the volunteers at South Kilbourne were the daughters and widow of the late Sen. Clementa Pinckney. Jennifer Pinckney works at the school and was there early in the morning with her daughters helping to put together bags of supplies for the students and their families.
“It’s hard when you’re in school and you’re used to doing so much for students, and it’s hard just sitting at home,” said South Kilbourne principal Dr. Linda Norton. “I don’t think there’s one of us in this entire state or nation that has not been affected by what has occurred.”
While delivering grocery bags full of supplies and school lessons to the Columbia Garden Apartments, Norton and South Kilbourne teachers were met by students who came out to greet them.
Six-year-old Terrince Tillman hugged his first-grade teacher, Blair Baxter, and told her he missed learning at school. Tillman’s family’s apartment was spared from any water damage but, like thousands of others in the Columbia water system, were still without clean water. They were thankful for the gift of supplies and the visit from their school family, said Anna Tillman, Terrince’s mother.
“It feels good. They’re letting us know they care,” Anna Tillman said.