EASTOVER, S.C. — Just a week after historic rainfall caused severe flooding in South Carolina — devastating lives, cities, and infrastructure — the examples witnessed here and across the state Oct. 13 were neighbors helping neighbors.
The South Carolina National Guard and emergency services departments throughout the state began helping their citizens immediately, and in a show of unity, camaraderie and support, have received assistance from the North Carolina National Guard and others.
"This is our neighboring state, and we should want to help everybody," said North Carolina Army National Guard Spc. Yazmaine Chand-Singh, assigned to the Forward Support Company, 505th Engineer Battalion. "If somebody needs help, that's what we are here for."
More than 2,500 National Guard assets are on the ground in the area, including engineer support from North Carolina and more than 40 state Guard members. Soldiers from the North Carolina Army National Guard's 505th Engineer Battalion took to local roads to begin assisting residents to traverse more safely in the flood-damaged areas.
Roads Washed Out
"All the roads have washed out due to the significant amount of rainfall that the area has received, so we are doing a hasty road repair so residents can at least get in and out of their homes until the [Department of Transportation] can get out here and fix it," said North Carolina Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Jack Gray, noncommissioned officer in charge of the 505th Engineer Battalion's 882nd Engineer Company.
The decision to assist South Carolina was an easy call, Gray said. "We all signed up to support and defend our country, and this is one of the ways we can support our country," he added.
Gray, a North Carolina Department of Transportation employee, said he found himself in familiar territory working on the roads in South Carolina, and uses his 15 years of experience to help the soldiers who are with him on this mission.
"This is the type of work I do for a living,” he said, “and in turn I try to pass that knowledge down to my soldiers."
Happy to Help
In the wake of destruction, the soldiers say they are happy to help.
"I was excited when I got the orders for state active duty, because doing this makes me feel better, helping other people out," Chand-Singh said. "I've done more now doing stateside deployment than I've done overseas during my mission in Kuwait. Everything is hands-on here — helping the people and getting things done."
Working with local authorities is significant for the National Guard's citizen-soldiers, who know that at any time, they could find themselves on the other end of a natural disaster.
"This is the eighth or ninth state active duty I've done, and every time we've made a significant impact," Gray said. "The local authorities, fire departments, police departments and DOT can become overwhelmed, so we try to do the best we can."
The engineers arrived at an intersection in Eastover where the roads were crumbling and huge craters made travel impossible. One home just off one of the roads belonged to a family who happened to be outside when the engineers arrived with their equipment, standing near a 20-foot-long ditch that used to be their driveway.
"That first night it started and things got really bad, the damage to my driveway happened," said Marcus Bostic, a resident of Eastover and a firefighter with the city of Columbia. "Thankfully, my wife woke me up, and I was able to move all my cars back to the farther end of the property, and as I got closer, that's when I realized there was a gigantic trench going through my driveway.”
Gray assured the family his team would do what they could to help the Bostic family with their driveway before the day was over. "When the dirt gets here, we can start doing the actual repairs on the washout areas, like this gentleman's driveway, so they can be more mobile," he said.
Bostic looked on as the engineers began work on the nearby road, and he began to recount the days during the flooding from the standpoint of a local first responder.
First Responder's Perspective
"It was bad," he said. "It was just so much at one time. You are just asking yourself, 'What do you do first?'"
He noted that as a firefighter, he usually knows what to do when something happens, but said this situation was different. "A natural disaster affects everybody, and you look at it and go, 'Now who's going to help me?'" Bostic said. "Now that you guys are out here, it's good to see some reciprocation. You give, give, give, so actually it's a real good feeling."
As Bostic spoke, 10-ton dump trucks rumbled down the road. The dirt was dumped, and a case-skid steer loader, similar to a small bulldozer, pushed it across the road and compacted it to smooth out the rough road.
"We haven't been able to drive our cars out since that happened," Bostic said. "It's been over a week since I've driven my car." With the help of the engineers from the 505th Engineer Battalion, Bostic and his family will have use of their driveway again.
The image of neighbors from the north, companions on the road to help others, was clear in South Carolina.
"I appreciate you guys and thank you for what you do," Bostic said. "As a firefighter, people always look up to me, so when it comes time for someone to help me out, I give the same appreciation I get."