FLORENCE COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Nearly six months after Hurricane Matthew, many people still can't get back in their homes, and now state officials are working to get help to those who most need it. Officials held a town hall meeting Tuesday night at Francis Marion University and say they won't be able to help everyone, but can at least try to help those that can't help themselves.
The South Carolina Disaster Recovery Office held meetings in Florence and Dillon Counties Tuesday, trying to determine which communities need the most help after Hurricane Matthew. They say the total estimated damages are over $400 million, and that's just for homes, but they only have $65 million to work with. Eighty percent of that $65 million is already going to Marion County, and one town in particular that was nearly wiped off the map.
Johnny Ford says he's lived in Nichols his entire life but was forced to relocate from his home to Florence.
"It's pretty sad to see what it looks like now," Ford said. "As a matter of fact, I live out on a farm that I grew up in, and I was in love. My wife and son lived there with me and we enjoyed it. It was a beautiful home. But the rain came and ran us out."
The meeting was to determine which families outside of Marion are suffering like Johnny's. The Department of Housing and Urban Development will make those decisions over the next several months, but the money will only go to those who need it the most. "Our priority list is based on age, disability, and income," said Deputy Director of SCDRO Benjamin Duncan. "An assessment will be done to determine the damage and whether it can be repaired or needs to be replaced for those individuals who are eligible."
But there are stipulations. No money will be given directly to the homeowner, and there will be no reimbursements for what you already fixed yourself.
"Some people have been able to recover themselves. They have other means, insurance, they may have gotten SBA loans, other types of resources that they may have. But these are people who cannot recover on their own, these are the most vulnerable people," said Duncan.
And for people like Johnny Ford, the options are running out.
"The people of Nichols are really really suffering. They don't have anything left. Some of the people...I don't know if they'll ever get back," said Ford.
Once the Department of Housing and Urban Development approves the plan, they said building will start in the Fall of 2017, and end sometime in June of 2019. The next town hall meeting will be held this Thursday in Marion.