Folly Beach Relief Squad forms, jumps into action to assist locals during flooding

By Lorne Chambers | Editor

Governor Nikki Haley declared last month’s deluge a “1,000-year flood” and it wasn’t just political rhetoric or hyperbole. It was scientifically accurate, meteorologically speaking. The dramatic term “1,000 year flood” doesn’t mean that it will only happen once every millennium. It means that there is a 1 in 1,000, or 0.1 percent, chance that a rain event or flood of that magnitude will occur in any given year.

And it happened this October. The Palmetto state was pounded with a fury that few had ever seen. WCSC‑TV Live 5 Chief Meteorologist Bill Walsh described it as a “hurricane without the hurricane,” saying that the only thing that was missing were the devastate winds.

With the rains still pouring down and the water still rising, a small group of Folly Beach residents snapped into action to help their neighbors. When it first began Michael Ezelle and his wife Wendy, who was eight-and-a-half months pregnant, were in their yard fighting off and diverting rushing water from ruining some items they had stored. As the water kept coming they retreated to their house and hoped for the best. It was during the night Ezelle noticed on Facebook that people who were out of town were asking others to check on their homes.

“I responded to a few and said I would take a drive,” said Ezelle. “I went to one house and was happy to report that his home was doing fine but noticed so many of my neighbors were completely flooding. I waited until daylight and took a tour. It was unimaginable. So many houses with more than a foot of water inside. Cars in ditches and water over their windows. We had a power line laying across the roadway.”

Ezelle then called Folly Beach Director of Public Safety Andrew Gilreath and the mayor’s office and asked how he and Wendy could assist and possibly start a help group. “The situation was still in emergency phase … more flooding was still imminent and they were still working to keep us safe,” said Ezelle. “It was suggested I contact the Red Cross. I did so but soon realized that because Folly was really not a life or death event and people were in so much danger in the Upstate, that the Red Cross would not be in our community for quite some time.”

Ezelle admits to not being the most tech-savvy guy around. But he got on his wife’s Facebook page and posted that he had a pick-up truck, a flatbed trailer, and time. “I could help anyone clean-up, clean-out, haul things away or whatever was necessary,” said Ezelle, who along with Wendy owns Sunshine Umbrella and The Juice Joint. “My business Sunshine Umbrella Rentals  had pretty much tapered off for the season so I was ready to jump into action. A tremendous amount of people seemed to feel the same desire to help so I started the Folly Beach Relief Squad (FBRS) and posted that anyone needing help to get at me … we had people call right away!”

The next thing Ezelle did was contact city councilman and Planet Follywood owner D.J. Rich for ideas on how to get the FBRS rolling and he mentioned that Ezelle should contact Elizabeth Calhoun and Kathleen Kennedy from the Crab Shack. “We met for coffee at Black Magic and realized that we needed to coordinate our efforts, and it has worked out wonderfully,” says Ezelle. “These two hard working, caring people are great examples for everyone. I am not surprised that they work for (Crab Shack owner) Ron Hill, another friend that truly shines a light on service for others.”

Calhoun and Kennedy created the Low Country Disaster Exchange on Facebook and the two groups began coordinating to pick up donated beds, bedding, sofas, housewares, etc. “Right away we found someone who had a bed to offer in Mt. Pleasant so I drove to get it and we delivered and set it up for a local woman who had lost everything,” says Ezelle. “After we set up her bed I looked around and realized she had only the bed … no glass to drink from, no fork or plate. I said ‘think about what you need and we will find it.’ We did and the mission was solidified.” Through social media, the FBRS continued to find folks in need and would locate items and deliver them in the truck.

Fellow Folly Beach business owners have responded to the efforts of Ezelle, the Folly Beach Disaster Relief Squad and the Low Country Disaster Exchange. At the monthly meeting of the Folly Association of Businesses (FAB), the organization voted unanimously to donate $1,000 to the effort.

“A lot of beautiful Folly folks called and emailed with every type of donation you could imagine,” said Ezelle. “The mayor (Tim Goodwin), (city administrator) Spencer Wetmore, and (city administrative clerk) Katherine Eich worked some magic and worked with Folly Road Self Storage to donate a storage unit for a couple months. Since then, the mission has been to fill it up and empty it out as many times as we can. The Fire House on Folly also stepped up and allowed people to drop donations as well.”

Ezelle has driven hundreds of miles and helped many families in the wake of the Great Flood of 2015. He has helped clean a dozen or so houses, cleaned debris from countless yards, and collected donated items from so many people from around the Lowcountry. He says many people are still just realizing how bad their situation really is. “This is why the Low Country Disaster Exchange and I are spending a lot of effort helping people through the FEMA applications and just really pushing people to look into that resource.”

According to Ezelle, there are still a lot of people on Folly Beach who have been displaced and in need of a helping hand. “I think people are doing what they can to understand their new reality. If that meant moving to another place on Folly or James Island, or with friends and family until they gather themselves,” he said. “We still need items and donations. With the King Tides, we may have more work to do.”

Ezelle says that he originally thought the FBRS would have an end date once the community got back on it’s feet and when people again felt safe and secure in their homes. But he’s now seeing that there’s more work to be done. “What I have realized is that our community, and all coastal communities, really need to have disaster preparedness plans at the ready and people willing to mobilize for each other,” says Ezelle, who has since completed 90 percent of his certifications with the Red Cross to become a member of their Disaster Assessment Team for the local community. “I think the Relief Squad and groups like the Low Country Disaster Exchange should probably be a part of that Disaster Preparedness effort going forward,” said Ezelle.

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