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A hailstorm battered a Rock Hill neighborhood. The neighbors stepped up for each other

Three days after a devastating hailstorm hit Rock Hill, repair crews, homeowners, and businesses are still trying to open roads in this end of town.
Scott Morgan
South Carolina Public Radio
Three days after a devastating hailstorm hit Rock Hill, repair crews, homeowners, and businesses are still trying to open roads in this end of town.

Gladys Porter-Cureton never lost power. Somehow her house stayed lit, even as the electricity died for 7,000 of her neighbors last weekend.

Around the back side of her house, though, is where you see that Porter-Cureton didn’t escape the April 20 hailstorm unscathed. That storm killed the power all around her Southside neighborhood in Rock Hill. And pieces of hail near the size of tangerines punched through all the windows around back.

Wind gusts between 60 and 90 miles per hour threw trees into houses and flung those icy tangerines horizontally through windows in houses, sheds, garages, and vehicles.

Somehow, Porter-Cureton’s car made it through the storm, too, even though plastic tarps drape a vehicle in just about every driveway within a several-block radius.

Isaiah Wise was in one of those cars, now parked, tarped, a few blocks away. I run into Isaiah on a sidestreet still littered with pieces of trees, still without power, still seeing multiple cleanup and utility crews working long (long) hours to get this neighborhood back to life as it was before last Saturday afternoon.

Isaiah’s home from school on this Tuesday, because the storm did enough damage to close the district down for the first two days of this week.

When I ask him if the car he was in got damaged, 12-year-old Isaiah says, “Very much,yes.”

He wasn’t driving, he says proudly. And he wasn’t hurt. But the car, behind him as we talk, would make one think otherwise without a living witness to say that everything turned out as OK as it could have.

Beware of home repair scams

Just in front of Isaiah, one of the many utility trucks working in Southside rumbles away. And at the end of the block, roofing company signs, pegged into the ground like political campaign banners, wave in the breeze. These signs are just about everywhere.

Most neighbors here have had at least one visit from a roofer. Most have had multiple such visits. And while most residents say these visits were no big deal, a few say the contractors who came by left them with a bad taste.

"The roofer that was over here yesterday, he was kind of pushy,” says Jamie Ross, who lives across the parking lot from the Emmett Scott Center. “He gave me a [paper]. I signed it without even reading it, but then I had three days to email him and say I didn't want to use him.”

She didn’t even wait a day to call it off. Ross says the contractor wanted to know when her insurance adjuster would be coming over, how much the estimate would be worth, and how much of it the contractor would get.

“And he wanted all of it,” she says. “I sent him an email last night and told him, ‘I'm sorry, but I didn't want your service.’"

Ross' next-door neighbor, Ida Potts, met with the same roofer and did not like him either. She says she is letting other neighbors know to keep their guard up for aggressive sales tactics from home repair contractors.

According to the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs, red flags of scams include when a contractor:

  • Shows up at your front door without being called
  • Offers a discount based on leftover material from other jobs
  • Uses high-pressure sales tactics
  • Only accepts cash

“Trust your gut,” SCDCA spokesman Scott Cooke wrote in an email.
Cooke also advises asking for contractor references, asking to see a business license, and getting at least two other bids before signing anything.

More tips from SCDCA can be found here: BewareofDisasterScams.pdf

The York County Office of Emergency Management said in a statement Wednesday that it “has concerns about some contractors going door to door with business cards, trying to solicit your business following the storm. We encourage all property owners to work with reputable businesses who are licensed and insured in South Carolina. Look at customer reviews, check BBB ratings, compare estimates from multiple companies, and ask for estimates in writing.

Neighbors helping neighbors

By Tuesday evening, 500 residents, most in and immediately surrounding Southside, are still without power. This is what compelled Jonathan Nazeer, owner of FARMacy, a roadside farmstand that is this neighborhood’s only local grocery store, to call on as many local organizations as he could to help drum up volunteers for a food distribution event for the neighbors.

He sure got them.

“We asked for 10 to 20 to help, and the amount of people who showed up is tremendous,” Nazeer says. “We've probably got 100 volunteers out here.”

The small parking lot of his store is packed deep with volunteers boxing meals and serving plates of food to neighbors who’ve been unable to eat food from their refrigerators in days. It’s impossible for either of us to know who is here to help and who is here to be helped.

In a way, Nazeer doesn’t care. He’s just clearly taken aback by how many people showed up to help after word got out that Southside needed a hand.

Glen Michael, a member of Elevation Church in Rock Hill, and a volunteer this evening, says he was moved to come help after seeing a post on Facebook. He’s taken aback too.

“This is a good thing,” he says, his eyes damp. “The storm was a bad thing, but this – this is a good thing.”

Local businesses, area churches, former and current City Council officials, and neighbors who themselves need help are here to pitch in. Also here is Isla Bradshaw, a little girl of around 5 or 6, who wants to give her Tooth Fairy loot over to the people of Southside.

She’s collected: "One dollar so people can buy some food with it," she says.

Nazeer will take whatever help he can get. And says this event is the first of many phases to get back to normal.

In addition to food distribution, Nazeer says tonight is a listening opportunity to find out what else this neighborhood needs.

"This has been a great event so far” he says. “We're helping a lot of people. We've heard a lot of needs, things that we didn't think about.”

Like the fact that without power, people haven't been able to wash clothes since the weekend.

“They've used towels to dry up floors,” Nazeer says. “But now they've got to wash those towels. Those are the things that in our earlier conversations and meetings we didn't think about. So that's kind of the next phase – how do we start washing clothes?"

There are also neighbors like Ruth Simril-Fisher, who lives one door down from the store and who needs electricity to breathe properly.

"I have a CPAP machine, and I haven't used it in three days,” she says. “And it helps me to breathe at night because I stop breathing.”

She tells me about one of the neighbors who loaned her a generator. In case you’re wondering, the neighbor is Jonathan Nazeer.

He’s also the same guy who put the plastic tarps over many of his neighbors’ hail-smashed cars. Ida Potts and Jamie Ross call him “an asset” and “a good man,” and Simril-Fisher agrees. And they all want Nazeer to benefit from some of the help he’s been doling out to Southside.

FARMacy, and the greenhouse that grows a lot of the produce the store sells, took a serious hit from the storm too. Nazeer says he doesn’t expect to be back to normal business for about a month.

In the meantime, he says he’ll sell produce from his mobile food cart like he did before he opened the store, as he works to get himself and his neighbors back to their lives..

Contacts for storm-related issues

Contact York County at the following numbers for services:

  • Crisis Clean-up 803-250-3679
  • York County Emergency Management: 803-326-2300

The City of Rock Hill encourages residents affected by the hailstorm to complete York County’s Public Damage Report: https://survey123.arcgis.com/share/f7445ffffce5448983593f1eaf871be7.

Additional resources from our local non-profit community are being compiled and shared here.

For general information about the phases of recovery, please visit York County’s Office of Emergency Management and South Carolina’s Emergency Management Division.

Updates on outages: www.cityofrockhill.com/outage

The city also “will continue to seek opportunities for any type of federal or state assistance, but this data is vital in helping build the case.”

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.