Recovering from Tropical Storm Fred: Reflections on the Destruction and Recovery from Rev. Brandon Lazarus

September 11, 2021

By: Rev. Brandon Lazarus, Pastor of Morning Star UMC Canton

The morning of Tuesday 17, 2021, I woke up to light rain. I thought it was odd because although we’ve gotten a lot of rain this summer, it usually rains in the afternoon and evening. As the day went on the rain never stopped. By the early afternoon, it had shifted from light rain to heavy rain. By 3:00 pm we noticed the roads were beginning to flood. Then calls began coming in of bridges being washed out. Our phones went off with alerts saying, “Get to high ground. Flood levels rising." Schools closed early to get kids home; but for some of the bus routes, it was too late. Buses were stranded by rising waters. Fortunately, first responders were able to safely recover all the children. It was evening before the rain finally stopped.

The next morning the sun came out and the sky was beautiful as if to say, “Sorry about yesterday." Clergy from all around Haywood County hopped on a Zoom call to get updates on the damage. Rev. Peter Constantian, the pastor of Long’s and Cruso UMCs, was out checking on members who live in the hardest-hit areas of Cruso. The photos he sent were a rude awakening to the destruction that had swept through our small town.

While most families avoided loss of life, there were many that were not as fortunate when it came to their homes and belongings. Entire campgrounds and trailer parks were destroyed. Homes were picked up off their foundations and carried into cornfields. We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t know where to start. We, clergy, spent the day calling and checking in on members and encouraging everyone to check on their neighbors. We took inventory of those who were affected and what kind of support they needed. Many were without water and/or power, so supply runs were made as needed. Some folks went to work mucking out their homes immediately. Others were too afraid to even return home.

In the days since the storm hit, we learned that five people died in the storm. In the beginning, there were over 60 people missing. So while we mourn the five who were lost, we’re thankful that most of those missing were located alive.

We are fortunate in Canton that we have an ecumenical missional network that allowed us to organize and mobilize quickly to get out into our community to help assess needs and get folks connected to the resources they’ve needed. Some of the clergy have also put on their boots, grabbed a shovel or sledgehammer, and helped families muck out and demo their homes.

While the destruction came quickly, the reconstruction will come slowly. And, while we’re working to help meet people’s physical needs, we know that the most important work that we have to do right now is offering prayer, a listening ear, and compassion.

I have been humbled to see the ways neighbors have supported neighbors. One family with whom I was able to visit admitted that they’re proud people who aren’t going to ask for help. After this storm, however, while they still might not ask for it directly, they’ll at least accept help when it's offered. I, on the other hand, am not too proud to ask.

While the exact needs will be a moving target, we know that we need funds. Funds can be donated through WNCC Disaster Response. These funds will go directly to the needs on the ground. Volunteer teams will be needed as the work progresses but you’ll need to be patient. We’re a small town full of small churches. This means too much help at once could lead to creating a problem, rather than addressing one. I ask that you learn from the people of Canton and love your neighbor in whatever way you are able.
Donate to WNCC Disaster Response Efforts for Tropical Storm Fred


The WNCC Committee on Relief continues to be hard at work responding to the disasters that have occurred in our state, our nation, and internationally. Learn more about the ways WNCC Disaster Response is working to provide relief in the communities affected by Tropical Storm Fred and Hurricane Ida.



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