Members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) offer prayers for all those affected by the devastating flooding in South Carolina. To date, 14 people have died as a result of the storm which began Oct. 1 and is the heaviest rainfall in the state since Hurricane Hugo struck in 1989, killing 27.
According to news reports, about 26,000 homes are without power and 40,000 residences are without running water. More than 500 roads and bridges have been closed.
“The ELCA South Carolina Synod is deeply grateful for the outpouring of love and prayers for the people of South Carolina in the midst of severe flooding,” said the Rev. Herman R. Yoos III, bishop of the ELCA South Carolina Synod, in a letter to the synod. “Homes have been destroyed. Bridges and dams in neighborhoods have collapsed. Interstate highways and roads have been compromised in the worst storm since records have been kept in this state.
“In working closely with Lutheran Services of Carolinas and Lutheran Disaster Response, we continue to assess the damages and we will begin to develop strategies for volunteer relief and long term recovery efforts over the next weeks and months to come,” Yoos stated in the letter.
Columbia is one of the hardest hit areas in the state with a two-day rainfall of more than 20 inches. Good Shepherd Lutheran in Columbia is serving as the center of operations for the suburban Forest Acres police department, which was forced to evacuate because their headquarters flooded. The South Carolina National Guard has set up a staging area at Good Shepherd and members of the guard are using the congregation’s youth room as sleeping quarters.
“As the waters recede, we will begin to see the needs of the people of God and we will respond to those needs for the long term,” said the Rev. Paul A. Wollner, pastor of Good Shepherd. “The response of neighbors helping one another has been phenomenal. People have opened their doors and taken in members of the community who have experienced great loss. All our local ELCA congregations will team up with the South Carolina Synod and Lutheran Disaster Response to help restore our community as we continue to respond into the future.”
Wollner said he is aware of five families from the congregation who have lost their homes and at least 10 families who have experienced flood damage. He said he expects to hear of additional losses in the days to come.
At least five families from Incarnation Lutheran Church in Columbia lost their homes as a result of the storm. The Rev. Frank Anderson, who serves as Lutheran campus pastor at the University of South Carolina, described the difficult situation facing many flood victims.
“It’s just devastating. These are areas that do not traditionally flood and it’s just painful to hear about people who call their insurance companies to find out they’re not covered. We’re all doing what we can to help,” he said.
Anderson’s wife, the Rev. Mary Anderson, is pastor of Incarnation. In the midst of the disaster, the congregation decided to continue with plans to host the annual Oktoberfest scheduled for Oct. 9-11. Frank Anderson said the event typically serves 7,000 people.
“The families who lost their homes said ‘yes, we need to have the event. We need to have some sense of normalcy and show resiliency.’ So we took our cues from those who lost their homes and who are still willing to serve. This is an event the whole city looks forward to,” he said.
A family from Pilgrim Lutheran in Lexington was rescued from their townhome Sunday morning. According to the Rev. Jeremy R. Gamelin, pastor of Pilgrim, the family lost everything from the first floor of their home, including their two cars.
Gamelin said Pilgrim is partnering with Lexington Interfaith Community Services to serve as a second drop-off site to receive relief supply donations from the local community.
Lutheran Disaster Response is working with partners in the region including Lutheran Services of the Carolinas to help provide care and comfort to those who are impacted by the flooding, focusing on long term recovery to help restore communities. Information on Lutheran Disaster Response is available at www.ELCA.org/disaster.