In August, the state of Louisiana experienced catastrophic flooding in one of the worst natural disasters since Hurricane Sandy. Residents of South Carolina could certainly relate to the images of houses under water and people being rescued by boat, as South Carolina is still recovering from last fall’s historic floods. Having gone through something similar, many people in the state want to help in some way. South Carolina Public Radio’s Laura Hunsberger speaks with the Louise Welch-Williams, the Regional CEO for the Red Cross in South Carolina, about what South Carolinians have done to help in Louisiana.
The Red Cross has called the flooding in Louisiana “the worst natural disaster to strike the United States since Hurricane Sandy” as reported by CNN. Louise Welch-Williams says the state experienced flooding that covered a wider geographic area than in South Carolina, and the disaster hit a more populated area, so more people were impacted. According to The Times-Picayune more than 30,000 people were rescued and an estimated 160,000 homes, business, and other structures were damaged in the August floods. While Louisiana experienced a bigger magnitude of flooding than South Carolina, Welch-Williams says that for those affected, the experience is very similar.
The Louisiana flooding is just one of several weather-related natural disasters to hit the United States in the past year. In June, 23 people were killed and thousands displaced when widespread flooding hit West Virginia. And in April, communities in Houston, Texas saw as much as 17 inches of rain in less than 24 hours. Add to the list a winter storm system that devastated parts of Missouri, Oklahoma, Georgia, Southern Illinois, and Dallas, Texas. People are wondering why these severe weather events are happening so often; experts are searching for answers.
For Zack Rosenburg Co-Founder and CEO of SBP, a disaster relief organization based in Louisiana, having another severe weather event hit the state brings home the mission of SBP: to shrink the time between disaster and recovery. In Baton Rouge, SBP has started the process of mucking and gutting houses. They hope to make quick progress at this stage to give the residents hope that recovery is achievable. As South Carolina has learned in the past year, recovery from a flood is a long process. It can take years for people to get back to where they were before a flood.
SBP is an organization that rebuilds and restores houses after a natural disaster. It started in St. Bernard Parish after Hurricane Katrina and was active in the flood recovery efforts in New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy and here in South Carolina after the October floods. It was formerly called “St. Bernard Project,” but Rosenburg says they changed the name to SBP to be more inclusive of the organization’s expanding work and purpose. In addition to doing recovery work, SBP now works with and trains partner organizations to do everything SBP can do. They even have published a playbook to help teach other agencies learn their best practices.
This new model started here in South Carolina. With support from Governor Haley, SBP formed ongoing partnerships with agencies and trained more than 30 groups in proper mold remediation techniques . Rosenburg says scaling up SBP’s work in South Carolina was possible because of support from Governor Haley, the United Way of the Midlands, and the nonprofit community, all with a common goal of getting South Carolina residents back home as soon as possible.
Rosenberg says each recovery effort should build upon the shoulders of past recovery work. When the floods hit Louisiana, SBP’s home state, Rosenberg says they had to scale up their efforts even more than they did in South Carolina. SBP is working extensively to train groups and individuals in Louisiana and has partnered with six organizations on an ongoing basis.
“We can’t do it all ourselves,” says Rosenburg. “You know, I think in South Carolina we realized we can’t and shouldn’t try to do this all ourselves. And I think seeing it be successful in South Carolina gave us the runway and the proof point to expand it in Baton Rouge and wherever the next big disaster happens.”