As floodwaters rose and receded throughout the Columbia area, generosity rained down on those facing changed lives in the wake of unfathomable destruction.
From beds to sleep in, water to drink and hands to clean and salvage, the people of the Midlands gave whatever they could Monday and Tuesday to help restore what the floods took away.
“We’re all human. We need to help each other,” said James Sanders, a north Columbia resident who issued an open invitation Tuesday to anyone in need of clean water to take what they needed from his Farrow Road well.
Amid the stories of hurt, there are countless stories of help.
‘Something they didn’t have to do’
The waters were rising, and Cydney Berry could see the first responders outside her condominium, unable to get their boat to her door.
The 79-year-old sat Sunday morning on the steps inside her Forest Lake Place home, where she had lived and built memories for more than three decades.
With the first responders struggling to get through, Berry said, a neighbor with a jonboat rode up to her door. Two men carried her out of her home. Some other neighbors took her to a nearby hotel. She took with her only her medications and some jewelry.
She returned home Monday with her son and was surprised to find more than just soggy ruin at the condominium complex, which sits behind the Tuesday Morning store on Forest Drive near Fort Jackson’s Gate 2.
More than a dozen young men and women, she said, were there, helping pull soaked items – furniture, carpets, memorabilia – from the condos.
“This is something they didn’t have to do,” Berry said of the helpers, who turned out to be a group of off-duty soldiers from Fort Jackson. “There wasn’t anything that they would not do, would not consider doing.”
A group of drill sergeant trainees from the fort had come upon the flooded condos Sunday night by chance, having gotten turned around by blocked roads when they went out looking for something to eat.
They had seen a man outside crying and stopped to talk to him, one of Berry’s sons, Kirk, said. The soldiers told the man they would come back with reinforcements the next day to help him and others with their recovery.
“We’re in the military, so for us, to go toward problems is what we’re kind of trained to do,” said Staff Sgt. Alan Allosada, who helped rip out a ruined wall of Berry’s condo Monday and was back on Tuesday, helping carry out dishes and laying them on the grass in front of her home. “It’s who we are.
“It’s pretty sad to see people lose everything in a matter of days.”
Standing beside Allosada on Tuesday afternoon, Cydney Berry surveyed her life laid out on her lawn.
“I mean, that’s 60 years worth of stuff. I can’t throw that away,” Cydney Berry said. “I’m just numb enough not to think about it.”
‘Everything that’s gone can be replaced’
The waters were rising, and Ray Stilwell couldn’t open his front door.
Berry’s neighbor in the Forest Lake Place condos, Stilwell had taken his pets out to his truck Sunday morning when he realized the bottom floor of his home was flooding. He came back inside to carry whatever he could upstairs.
He was wading through shin-deep water, he said, when he heard what sounded like a gunshot. Two doors in his living room had burst open, and water came rushing in. Within 30 seconds, the water rose to his waist and kept coming.
Unable to open the front door, he made his way out back and struggled through three or four feet of water until two men – he doesn’t know who – pulled him to safety.
Monday and Tuesday, Stilwell’s struggle was pulling 41 years worth of possessions and memories from his home, where a shoulder-level water mark remained on the yellow walls of his living room.
“All this stuff, yeah, it means something,” he said. “But the bottom line is it can be replaced. Everything that’s gone can be replaced.”
Allosada and the others from Fort Jackson – “the knights and the gladiators” of the drill sergeant school, Allosada said – had been a help to Stilwell he couldn’t say enough thanks for.
“Trust me, (Fort Jackson) headquarters is getting a phone call from me today, and whoever answers the phone is going to get a positive earful from me about you guys. And I know there are others,” Stilwell told Allosada. “When I think about how long and how painful it would have been for me to have to do this by myself, there’s no way.”
‘So much more fortunate’
The waters were rising, and Willa Davis was forced to flee. A pond dam had ruptured near her Forest Acres home Monday afternoon.
Davis was grateful to find her home undamaged when she returned Tuesday.
“I am so much more fortunate than others,” she said as she picked up drinking water distributed at East Forest Plaza up the road from her home. “A lot of my neighbors are coming back to nothing.”
Authorities had set up numerous bottled-water distribution centers around the county Monday night and Tuesday, with clean water a scarce necessity in the hours and days after the floods. It was the kind of help that many in the area, even those whose homes and possessions were unscathed, were desperate for.
Davis, 65, spent the night with her daughter in Irmo after leaving the area Monday with her two dogs and a few clothes she had packed after Gills Creek brought flood waters a half-block away Sunday.
Getting out of her Lakeshore neighborhood surrounded by flooding required “zigzagging” that made her wonder for a while if escape was possible.
“It was nerve-wracking,” she said.
‘The helpers are always there’
The waters were rising, and Tammy Moshier could barely hold her dog, Bruzer, above the crest.
She had awoken Sunday morning to see water from Gills Creek rising above the backyard fence of her home in the Hampton Leas neighborhood behind the VA hospital.
A neighbor urged her to evacuate, and by that time, the water was coming up quickly, Moshier said. She and her 11-year-old daughter, Laura, grabbed a change of clothes and their dog. Carrying Bruzer and wading through chest-deep water in her front yard, Moshier was met by a neighbor she did not know who helped get the family to safety.
Moshier’s friend, Laurie Moore, opened her home to the Moshiers on Sunday and on Monday returned with them to their home to help start the recovery process.
“I know that when emotions are high, logic is often low, and it’s hard to make decisions when you are drenched in emotions,” Moore said. “So I just wanted to extend a hand to help.”
When Moshier couldn’t bring herself to throw out her sentimental Christmas ornaments, which had been boxed in the garage where waters rose at least five feet, Moore sat down and cleaned them out and salvaged what she could.
Throughout the day Monday and Tuesday, friends and strangers made their way to Moshier’s home – “Oh my word, what can I do?” said one who pulled up Tuesday morning, embodying the general response.
The outpouring of generosity touched Moshier and reminded her of a mantra taught to her by the old show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
“‘Always look for the helpers, because the helpers are always there,’” she said. “That is what I feel like I’m living, because every time I start to get overwhelmed, somebody comes and says, ‘What can I do?’”
Staff writer Tim Flach contributed. Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.