When Sgt. Chris Williams woke one night to find his power gone, he didn’t know it was the beginning of the worst flood in Columbia’s recent memory.
“I went downstairs to see if it was just my house or all the neighborhood,” he said. “When I went outside, some of the cats we were feeding, they ran off the deck, and it sounded like they were jumping in a swimming pool.”
Williams just had time to gather his wife, 3-year-old daughter and three dogs before he had to flee his home in the Coldstream subdivision in Lexington County. Water was coming up to the bumper of his pickup truck by the time he got out, he said. His 11-year-old twins were staying with their grandmother at the time.
Four other officers who are Williams’ compatriots in the Columbia Police Department suffered similar fates during the flood. Nicholas Scott, Steve White, Robert Calby and Chad Walker’s homes all sustained major damage, according to a release from the Police Benevolent Foundation.
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It was a week and a half before Williams and his wife, who is pregnant with their fourth child, could move back into their home. When they did so, they had to confine themselves to the second floor because of the extensive damage on the first floor. In the middle of it all, the family celebrated daughter Claire’s third birthday.
“We turned a stack of plywood into a dinner table and had a birthday party for the family around it,” Williams said. “We’ve lost our house, but we haven’t lost our home. We’re still making a home – it’s just taking a bit of adjusting.”
Friends and neighbors helped make that happen, the sergeant added. A major with the University of South Carolina police department brought a cheesecake for the party, and community members have continued to bring food. Members of the New Spring Church have thrown their efforts into not only helping Williams and his family, but the whole neighborhood, and have spent the time since the flood gutting damaged houses and providing meals to those in need.
Aid for the Williams family, as well as the other officers displaced, has come in monetary form as well. USC Maj. Jim Miles kicked things off with a GoFundMe.com page for Williams. And the Police Benevolent Foundation and the S.C. Division of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association followed suit, raising money for each of the five officers.
It took a bit of digging to find out the officers needed help, said Columbia officer Joe Czeladko.
“It’s not so much that they didn’t want to talk about it,” said Czeladko, president of the Columbia chapter of the Police Benevolent Association. “It’s just us being police officers – we spend the majority of our time taking care of the citizens of Columbia, taking care of the citizens of Columbia. We generally don’t want to put ourselves first. Our guys aren’t selfish.”
The association’s job is to put the officers first while they’re busy putting the citizens first, Czeladko said.
Rebuilding from the flood will be a long process, Williams said. His family can’t rebuild their home until Lexington County gives them the go-ahead, something the sergeant said could take four to five weeks.
In the meantime, his family will move into an apartment come November. Through it all, he said, the community support has been invaluable.
“It’s real humbling,” Williams said. “I can’t express the emotions we feel when God works through the people around us.”
HOW TO HELP
Anyone interested in donating to the Columbia Police Officers Flood Recovery Fund can do so through www.pbfi.org or by cellphone.
Texting “COPS FLOOD” to 85944 will make a $10 donation to the “Columbia Police Officers Flood Recovery Fund” through the donor’s cellphone bill.