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Business owners, employees look for help as flood recovery continues

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By Chris Cox
ccox@scbiznews.com
Published Oct. 8, 2015

Bryan Underwood and his children packed up their Colorado home for South Carolina five months ago. He wanted his kids to be closer to his parents in Kingstree, where there just so happened to also be a need for plumbers.

“I’m not regretting the call,” he said. “But I’ll be glad when this is over.”

Lareitha Santiago (right) helps Ericka Brown fill out a claim at the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce’s mobile center. (Photo/Chris Cox)Lareitha Santiago (right) helps Ericka Brown fill out a claim at the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce’s mobile center. (Photo/Chris Cox)

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The torrential rains that devastated the Midlands this week also flooded away any chance at income for his company, Pipeworks Plumbing. His one-man operation, which normally pulls in anywhere from $500 to $2,500 a day, has run dry as he struggles to escape his Manning home.

“What’s affected us most is the fact that the roads are taken out,” he said. “Most of my work deals in Kingstree, Lake City, Florence, Sumter. And now I can’t get there. I have jobs waiting on me to get there that I can’t get to because I’m stuck.”

Underwood is one of many who have called upon the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce this week, hoping to receive some sort of monetary reprieve until their lives return to normal.

“They said they would be able to help me as far as helping to reestablish the business as its concerned until it comes back,” Underwood said. “And if I needed actual money coming back in, that’s something we would be dealing with FEMA on.”

At the department’s tent set up in the Target parking lot on Garners Ferry Road, Ericka Brown was busy filling out a claim while her children sat in the car patiently waiting. Helping her was Lareitha Santiago, who encouraged those in need to come by, visit the unemployment portal or phone the call center at 866-831-1724.

Filing a regular unemployment claim is the very first step in the process, Santiago said, and if claimants are eligible for state unemployment benefits they will receive those first. As of Thursday, 16 counties were also eligible to receive FEMA-approved Disaster Unemployment Assistance. The program, which makes funds available to assist those now unemployed as a direct result of the storm, has experienced a “high volume of calls,” spokesman Bob Bouyea said.

Brown, who lives on Congaree Road in Gadsden, has been unable to reach her job at Staples on Arbor Lake Drive in Columbia. She’s lived in the area for eight years, on land given by her father, and now finds herself with four boys at home and a treacherous road to her place of work.

She recently got her power and water back on, she said, and it took her two hours to get to Lower Richland High School for supplies earlier this week. She was headed to Harvest Hope Food Bank after her stop at the DEW tent.

“It’s heart-wrenching,” she said. “All the roads were blocked everywhere I went. I saw people going across barricades — I definitely wasn’t going to do that. To travel with four kids, I just envision me going into an embankment and not being able to save them.”

And leaving the boys at home isn’t an option, either.

“With the kids being out (of school), where am I going to take my children? I don’t want to put them on anybody else when we’re going through all this. And to feed four kids, I can’t expect anybody to do that.”

Underwood said he is praying he will be without work for only two or three more weeks. Until then, he’s hoping for government assistance.

“It was going good,” he said of his business. “Now all of a sudden this has happened and it’s come to a complete halt.”

Reach Chris Cox at 803-726-7545 or on Twitter @chrisbcox.

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