UofSC students, faculty, staff help out during flood

Tommy Rollins woke up at 4 a.m., Oct. 4, to a sound like “someone taking a shower in my bedroom.” Within 30 minutes, when the 1972 University of South Carolina art graduate stepped into his yard to leave his house, he stepped into chest-high waters.

Among the neighbors in Columbia’s Lake Katherine community was another UofSC alumnus who had fraternity brothers visiting. The men and Rollins helped a woman and her young grandchildren escape the floodwaters.

“If it hadn’t been for a rope we had tied to a tree helping us cross the street, we would have been swept away,” Rollins says.

The whole group spent the next three hours helping their neighbor move his possessions to higher ground as the water rose to nearly the front porch of their refuge.

“We abandoned that house in a johnboat that took us further up the hill to another neighbor’s house,” Rollins says.

But the real miracle, he says, came a couple days later when he and his wife, Sally (’75 psychology), began the process of tearing out all the things in their home of two decades that had been submerged under toxic water.

“There was a health clinic set up in the neighborhood, and I was there having my foot looked at and getting a tetanus shot, when Sally calls and says, ‘You want to get back here, the USC women’s soccer team is here.’ I was so excited about that I forgot to put my sock back on,” Rollins says.

Feeling useful

Staffing that clinic was UofSC nursing professor Erin McKinney, other faculty members and nursing alumni as well as doctors and nurses from Palmetto Health.

The hospital workers were taking care of immunizations for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, while McKinney and others did triage and treated the wounds they found on the weekend after the big flood, working in shifts to staff the makeshift clinic from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“We gave more than 250 people immunizations just on Friday,” she says. “By Sunday, all the tetanus that Palmetto Health Baptist and Richland had was gone. It never slowed down.”

In addition to the care — one man had his finger sutured by a doctor there — the nurses discussed the dangers still lurking in the standing water and offered those stopping by a chance to grab some bottled water and a snack that others had prepared and kept supplied.

“People were dropping off big coolers of water and all kinds of food,” McKinney says. “A lot of folks just sat around and talked and laughed. It gave them that feeling of being human again.”

McKinney, who earned her bachelor’s (1980) and master’s (1985) of nursing from Carolina, previously lived in the Lake Katherine neighborhood for nearly 20 years and knew some of the people personally. She had spent time earlier in the week helping friends clear out their houses and salvage what they could. During her time working as a volunteer, she saw many UofSC students as well as volunteers from all over the Southeast and says she understood why they all were there.

“It certainly gave me a mission, a way to feel useful,” she says.

Repaying community support

On the other side of Lake Katherine, Carolina women’s soccer coach Shelley Smith and her husband and assistant coach, Jamie, had been spared flooding, but couldn’t get out of their neighborhood because of the roads.

“For a couple of days, we couldn’t even get out to see our team,” Smith says. “They were wanting to get out and help.”

Classes had been canceled, but the team was able to play its match later that week. Then they went out into the neighborhoods to see how they could help. Most homeowners were facing a race against the clock. Everything that had gotten wet had to go, including carpet, hardwood floors, sheetrock and insulation. Houses had to be gutted and taken down to the studs before the water-mitigation services could come in and make sure mold and mildew didn’t become a permanent problem.

For that work, an army of volunteers descended on the flooded-out neighborhoods and put their backs into it.

“I think they were sent by God. They just appeared,” Rollins says. “And they worked hard for hours and got our house down to the studs.”

Anna Conklin, a sophomore soccer player and sport and entertainment management major from Randolph, N.J., was overwhelmed by the devastation she saw.

“You see it on TV, and then to see it in person was just shocking,” she told the publication Spurs & Feathers. “Your mouth drops. It kind of made a lot of us speechless and grateful that we could help out.”

Rollins and his wife told the student-athletes that they have watched all of their home games for almost 15 years — about the same time the Smiths have been coaching — and are season ticketholders.

“We have a lot of support from the community,” Shelley Smith says. “Our team is just a great group of girls. We make a point to get out into the community to give back every chance we get.”

Rollins mentioned some prized possessions he lost in the flood — his Gamecocks cap that he wore to games and two Gamecock soccer scarves.

When the women’s team returned from their away match in Mississippi this week, they stopped by the Rollins’ home and dropped off two new scarves and a ball cap signed by the whole team.

“I’m not going to wear that hat,” Rollins says. “Wherever my new den is, that hat is going to be in a place of prominence.”

Learn more

Our neighbors still need our help. Learn how you can help at the Together website.

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