Cindi Ross Scoppe

A year after the flood, are we still a community that cares?

Volunteers from NewSpring Church help remove debris from a home in a flooded-out Columbia neighborhood.
Volunteers from NewSpring Church help remove debris from a home in a flooded-out Columbia neighborhood. tglantz@thestate.com

WHERE WERE you, what were you doing, when the water started rising?

Because human beings feel a need to mark anniversaries — particularly communal anniversaries, particularly early on — it’s a question we’ll ask and be asked over and over as we approach Tuesday’s one-year anniversary of the floods we never could have imagined.

But there’s another question we need to ask — certainly of ourselves, if not of others also: What did you do about the floods?

And another still: What are you still doing about the floods?

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FROM THE ARCHIVES: After the floods, a week of great destruction, and greater generosity

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Flood destruction brings out ‘heartwarming’ volunteerism

RELATED: If the rains came again today, how would Columbia cope?

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For many of us, the answer to the first question will be heart-warming. Many heroes rushed into the floodwaters to save neighbors and even strangers. They pulled out their boats and maneuvered them through rivers and lakes that had been streets and yards, plucking up infants, the infirm and everyone in between, and hauling them to higher ground. They pounded on doors to roust neighbors and help them gather up what possessions they could as the waters rose.

After the rain stopped, they called the Red Cross or the United Way and asked where they could help. They loaded their cars with food or tools or friends and drove to flooded neighborhoods and went to work: Hauling whatever they could out of waterlogged homes. Cleaning what could be salvaged. Throwing out what couldn’t be. Handing out water bottles and serving fresh-cooked meals and offering a shoulder to cry on. They swooped in and took charge where victims were too overwhelmed even to know where to begin. They opened their wallets to help pay for the food and water and temporary shelter and clothes and household goods that volunteer organizations provide.

And when Louisiana was flooded this summer, many felt a kinship and lurched back into action. A friend of mine told of being overwhelmed by all the people who handed her money when she went to the grocery store to buy supplies for an emergency relief drive our parish sponsored.

Oh, we do a great job with one-time responses.

But what of the long term?

It takes a community up to five years to recover from a disaster like the one that struck us a year ago. And of course we have government to attend to the most obvious needs — repairing roads and water treatment facilities, making sure homes and businesses are rebuilt safely, or not rebuilt.

But what of the individuals? Even those with the means to repair their homes and settle back in will never recover the precious family heirlooms that were lost. They’ll never forget the terror of wondering whether they would survive. How are we helping them?

What of those less fortunate? What of those who had no bank accounts, who live paycheck to paycheck, who lost their homes and all their possessions? What of those who lost several days’ pay or even their jobs when the floodwaters washed away their cars or the bridges and streets between their homes and their workplaces? What are we doing to help them?

The United Way of the Midlands says at least 1,142 people in Richland County alone still need help getting their lives back together; statewide, the number is around 3,600. That’s a tiny fraction of the 103,000 people who registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance, but it’s still … 3,600 people whose lives were turned upside down — and haven’t been righted.

Most of them are living in moldy homes that aren’t healthy but that they can’t clean out until they repair their roofs — something they don’t have the money to do. Some are having to stay with friends or relatives, or rent temporary housing, because they can’t afford even to make their homes habitable. Those who were merely out of work are still struggling to catch up from the lost pay.

How are we helping?

Are we still volunteering?

Hearts & Hands Disaster Recovery, the state’s flooding case management provider, says the best thing to do is volunteer with local long-term recovery groups, which are still helping people clean up their homes, repairing roofs, removing mold and completing other tasks that require lots of hands and hearts. Try the United Way of the Midlands, the S.C. Conference of the United Methodist Church, the S.C. Baptist Convention or other local groups you trust.

Are we still even writing checks to support the work that all of those volunteers are doing through the United Way and churches and other community, national and international groups?

Are we still remembering the victims, and the volunteers, in our prayers?

Jesus tells us in the 25th chapter of St. Matthew’s gospel that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Yes, our community did an amazing job coming together to help our neighbors immediately after the storm.

But recovery doesn’t end when our attention flits off to something else; recovery ends when the victims are all made whole.

If we are truly an extraordinary community filled with grace, a community that comes together to help our neighbors when they need it, we will continue to give our time, our talents and our treasure until we make them all whole.

Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at cscoppe@thestate.com or (803) 771-8571 or follow her on Twitter @CindiScoppe.

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