Marion County hurricane victims await federal grant for disaster recovery

NICHOLS, SC (WBTW) – Some Hurricane Matthew victims in Marion County said they are still awaiting help to recover from the storm’s damaging winds and flooding.

“I’m 75 years old, and I want to get back in my home before I die,” said Geraldine Johnson.

Johnson, along with the few neighbors still living along Pee Dee Island Road near Nichols, said everything changed last October 8.

“The water was inside my house,” Johnson recalled. “A boat had to come inside my house to get me and my brother off of the deep freezer.”

Once the storm was gone, Johnson said she and her neighbors were told by town officials they wouldn’t qualify for the aid sent to Nichols after the disaster, since Pee Dee Island Road sits just outside the town limits.

“It’s really sad,” Johnson said, tears welling in her eyes. “We didn’t cause the water to come out on us.”

That’s where Bishop Michael Blue and the Marion County Long-Term Recovery Group come in.

“Our effort is to be structured in such a way that we can touch all of the county,” Bishop Blue explained.

Blue said recovery is a long process, and he understands the frustration many storm victims still feel.

“I can imagine being displaced, being out of the house,” he said. “There can be a sense of being left out.”

Bishop Blue wants those still waiting for help to know he and his group are hard at work every day to no only speed the recovery, but to do it responsibly.

“Now, we’re at the point where we’re getting a construction manager and all those pieces so that as we begin to try to help people have safe, sanitary, secure housing, we don’t have to go back and say, ‘Oops, we missed a step,'” Blue explained.

In January, Congress announced a $52 million grant for Marion County recovery. Blue said victims can now sign up for that money.

“The HUD funds that are coming, you won’t be able to access them if you’re not in the system,” he warns.

Bishop Blue said the information will also help volunteer groups reach out to those most in need until the federal funds arrive.

“The HUD grant manifest is working now,” Blue said. “But to see people working on houses, that comes later in the year, according to what we’ve been told.”

Hurricane victims are encouraged to visit the Marion County Administration building to sign up. Blue said even if you aren’t sure you will qualify, sign up anyway. It will be easier to connect you with help of any kind of your information is already in the database, Blue explained.

You’re asked to bring proper identification as well as proof of home ownership if you are claiming damage to your property.