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After the flood

When the rains came last October, Trinity United Methodist Church took a pelting. The historic downtown Charleston church didn't get flooded, but instead stood like a sponge as an estimated 4 trillion tons of rainwater poured out of the skies, breaking through Trinity's aging roof and swamping an empty space between the sanctuary and annex.

"If you can visualize a box being filled with water, and that water has no place to go but in the walls and up into the ceiling space," said Trinity's pastor, the Rev. Greta Bridges.

Water literally is in the walls still, and even though the 200-year-old church scraped together money from their endowment to pay for a roof repair, six months after the flood, the paint and plaster have absorbed the water and are popping and cracking with the pressure.

"All these months later, you can still see the dark spots in the walls. You tap on the walls, and you can hear where the stucco finish on the outside is separating the block from the inside," Bridges said. "We're being told to just wait for the building to literally dry out and then go back and try to fix the interior plaster and outside stucco and paint—and hope and pray it doesn't deteriorate any further."

Months after the devastating Oct. 3-4 storms swept over this state, its floodwaters and fury leaving thousands displaced and thousands more with costly and debilitating repairs, many churches, homes and businesses are still struggling to put the pieces back together.

Homeowners are struggling just as hard, if not harder. Many are displaced from their homes, living in temporary housing or with relatives, and some never left, with no other option but to stay in their homes with the mold and debris, waiting for help to arrive.

Ward Smith, recovery manager, said the emotional and logistical work performed by case managers is just as critical as the physical work being done by United Methodist Volunteers in Mission teams. Three case managers in all three affected regions—Lowcountry, Midlands and Florence/Coast—are doing everything from appeals to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to connecting people with agencies to finding furniture for homeowners to prayer.

"A lot of agencies doing help with early response are not here anymore," Smith said. "There were 90 agencies that came in and had teams doing muck out, and now there are only about five to 10."
The task is big, but Smith and the UMCSC flood recovery team are stepping up in whatever way possible.

Trinity UMC, Charleston, is still able to worship in their sanctuary, and so far Bridges said they have stopped any additional water damage and haven't seen any signs of mold or mildew, but they're still holding a collective breath.

Their struggle is also a financial one. Because it wasn't technically a flood, they didn't qualify for FEMA funds, but Bridges said they were "insurance poor" and had to pay $100,000 for their new roof. They were able to pull from their endowment to pay for that, but they had been using the interest from that fund to cover operating costs and stay afloat. As the oldest continuous congregation in Charleston in one of the oldest sanctuaries in Charleston, right at the corner of Meeting and Society street, they're doing all they can to get by.

"It's been a very expensive storm," Bridges said, and Trinity is not the only church facing this problem in downtown Charleston. "The building is not the church, the congregation is, but they know the history the church has and they're trying to preserve that history."

Jessica Brodie, editor, South Carolina United Methodist Advocate newspaper

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