Joanie Thresher tried to explain the situation through the tears.
“The roads are gone. They’re not just covered in mud. They’re gone.
“It’s just so heartbreaking.”
At least 18 dams were breached and more than 100 bridges washed away in South Carolina after a five-day deluge of rain from Hurricane Joaquin. The weather caused more than a dozen deaths and potentially more than $1 billion in damage statewide.
The flooding has been especially hard on the state’s military community. USO South Carolina has kept its Columbia Metropolitan Airport center open to troops while providing aid to service members and families around Fort Jackson – where the Army trains more than half its new soldiers – and 1,300 National Guard first responders.
“This flood is hitting the heart of our military community,” said Thresher, the director of USO South Carolina, in a Tuesday night phone call. “There are so many military families who live in the areas worst hit, and it’s supposed to get worse before it gets better.”
Hurricane Joaquin put an all-stop to base operations Saturday, leaving dozens of troops stranded overnight at nearby Columbia Metropolitan Airport, where hundreds typically pass through the USO lounge daily on their way to and from basic training.
USO South Carolina has called on its volunteers and donors for logistical support to help deliver basic supplies like water to military families in need.
“Everyone is bringing in supplies from water to food, diapers, formula and baby wipes, everything you can imagine they are just bringing in truckloads to us to give to service members,” Thresher said. “It’s just unbelievable.”
Thresher said most of the USO support is focused on the Guardsmen working search-and-rescue missions along the coast, where water and energy drinks are crucial. Volunteers are also delivering water, food and supplies to the inland areas and communities near Fort Jackson.
Starbucks came through with almost 300 pounds of ground coffee, water and individually wrapped food. The Columbia Chamber of Commerce, GEICO, Lowes and other businesses made financial donations.
“[It’s like the USO is] the only bridge that’s still intact,” Thresher said, “because we’re blessed to be able to get onto the installations and on to the flight lines where we can help load Chinooks and sling-load pallets to be taken across the city to the people who need it because our roads are gone.”