Fairview Twp. man works in flooded areas of South Carolina for Red Cross
A Fairview Township man spent two weeks in South Carolina ensuring there were enough volunteers and supplies for the Red Cross flooding relief efforts.
Chris Weidenhammer, chief of the Fairview Township Fire Department and regional disaster officer for the Red Cross serving central Pennsylvania, spent Oct. 4 to Oct. 18 in Columbia, South Carolina helping with the relief effort.
At the beginning of October, South Carolina experienced heavy rainfall, upward of two feet in some areas, causing flooding in areas of the state. Weidenhammer said Columbia experienced almost 21 inches of rain.
Weidenhammer, a Red Cross employee for nine years, said his job was to ensure there was enough staffing to do the activities needed and that there was enough stuff to do the activities needed. He would put in orders for everything from tools to assist with cleanup to food for mobile feeding stations.
He said he spent a lot of his time at the Red Cross headquarters in Columbia, but still he saw a lot of homes and business areas flooded when driving between hospitals and the headquarters. He said he believed Columbia received the most rainfall and that he did not have to go far from headquarters to see damage.
"It was kind of the same type of situation we experienced here in central Pennsylvania with Tropical Storm Lee," he said.
He said the devastation occurred in "pockets" where some areas had more damage than others in close proximity.
His job: Weidenhammer's position with the Red Cross meant he had to make sure there were enough supplies for the relief efforts. Having been an employee of the Red Cross for nine years, he has experienced three situations similar to the flooding: during Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.
For his position, he contacts the Red Cross warehouses, one located in Carlisle and the other in Atlanta, to get the necessary materials, which he claimed would arrive the next day.
He said that he would place the orders for such varied things providing rental cars for responders to getting food for mobile feeding stations.
At the beginning of the flooding, the Red Cross was making almost 10,000 meals a day, lunch and dinner, Weidenhammer said. He also ordered cleanup kits, which have items such as a bucket, bleach, broom, mask, gloves and trash bags, which were utilized for cleaning up things such as flooded basements.
He also contacts Red Cross partner organizations such as Home Depot to get the necessary materials, such as trash bags or shovels.
"They step up a lot of times during disaster," he said.
He said that the Red Cross was prepared during the efforts.
"We were up and running and ready to go before the rainfall stopped," he said.
"One of the positive outcomes of this disaster, if there was one, was we have enough people and enough stuff," he said.
The journey: Weidenhammer said one of the worst parts of his experience was the journey itself.
"I almost couldn't get there," he said. "They tried to move us out when it was still raining."
Weidenhammer said two of his flights trying to get to Columbia were canceled due to the weather. His third flight eventually got him there at 3:45 a.m. He said he was delayed for about six hours.
After landing he managed to find a cab that was still running in the bad weather to take him to the hotel. He couldn't get to the headquarters in Columbia until daylight as there were road closures and a curfew in effect at that time.
"Some folks couldn't fly into Columbia," he said, adding that some Red Cross employees or volunteers had to fly to other airports and drive to Columbia as a result, some driving up to 90 miles to reach Columbia in the pouring rain. He said that some of them had to have the National Guard take them to the shelters. Parts of Interstate 95 in South Carolina were closed down for a week, which he said was "unprecedented."
Contaminated water: During the first week he was there, he said, the water was contaminated, so restaurants couldn't serve sodas or coffee.
"A few days without coffee, I wasn't too happy," he said.
He said that all the water that was served had to be bottled. During that week the Red Cross had to give out bottled water to residents.
"I think the top inventory was probably about 45,000 cases of bottled water," he said, adding that represented over a million water bottles.
"We plentifully gave it out, pretty much anyone that needed it we gave it out," he said.
The contaminated water situation was fixed after the first week.
The community: Weidenhammer said he saw a lot of the community out and about during his time.
"The community was just very appreciative of the efforts of the Red Cross as well as the other organizations helping them out," he said.
He said the people he encountered were "shell-shocked."
"I don't think a lot of them anticipated the level of devastation they encountered," he said. "Certain areas were pretty much leveled, it was unbelievable."
Despite the devastation, Weidenhammer noted that members of the community still offered to help.
"You have individuals that have lost their homes and basically everything else, and they come to our organization and say, 'Hey I want to volunteer,'" he said.
"That's always a huge impact, and sticks with you for a long time."
— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at firstname.lastname@example.org.