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Heartbreak & Devastation Up Front

  • Thursday, September 26, 2013

  • Updated Saturday, September 28, 2013 10:30 pm

By Ashley DesMarteau

Billowing angry black smoke, an airplane engine humming over the whispered voices of disbelief and comforting sounds of friends reaching out to one another — flashing lights from emergency vehicles blocking every entrance; it was not a good morning on Front Street.

Front Street early morning is the quintessential small town America, just waking up and welcoming the day. Friends meeting up for coffee, regulars stopping into the Harborwalk Bookstore for their papers, shop owners hanging out their flags and watering their plants — but not on Wednesday. Instead of gently easing into the morning, Front Street was in full-on disaster mode. The street was filled with fire trucks, huge hoses snaking around and overlapping each other as the units from across the Lowcountry worked to tame the raging fire.

Condo residents reported hearing two loud booms, and when they looked out to see what was happening, the flames were huge, reaching into the dark sky and appeared to be engulfing the entire block. A call was immediately made and firefighters from across the region descended on Front Street and got to work.

And so did the American Red Cross. Nanci Conley, Executive Director of the American Red Cross Coastal South Carolina Chapter, got the call at 7 a.m., in less than two hours she already had a dozen volunteers dispersed and providing assistance. “We have mental health workers who have already been seeing people this morning.” Conley shook her head, still assessing the situation as hoses continued to douse the rubble that was once Zest and Doodlebugs, “you just never know, you just never know what’s going to happen”.  As prepared as the Red Cross is, this disaster on Front Street was another reminder of just how important having a solid local volunteer base is-Conley added that of her 12 volunteers, only 4 were from Georgetown. “We need more trained volunteers in this community. We really do.”

Business owners on Front Street are a tight group, all working together to make the downtown area a true destination for shopping and dining. Zest owners who had celebrated the opening of the restaurant and sushi bar just this summer could only stand by and watch as flames consumed their building. Doodlebugs owner Ginger Gray was surrounded by friends and family as her store of 12 years succumbed to the fire. Like many of the shop owners, Front Street isn’t just an address to them, it’s home.  “I couldn’t imagine us being anywhere but on Front Street”, said Ginger Gray, owner of Doodlebugs.

And home is where family takes care of you, just like the community on Front Street. First Citizens Bank had to close for the morning, so employees set up a relief table of their own, offering donuts and orange juice to the crowd behind the building of mostly bystanders and business owners. Susan Beckman, a Broad Street homeowner woke up early to the sound of fire trucks and didn’t hesitate to jump into action. “I called the local Piggly Wiggly and Food Lion to see if they could help and they told me to come on down and pick up what we needed. My neighbors all helped to pick up the groceries and they came back with carloads,” said Beckman. Susan was busy all morning helping to serve the rescue workers from fire stations all across the Lowcountry. Sometimes they were shy and needed a little prodding, but clearly everyone appreciated the generosity and support.

Midway Firefighters had been on the scene since shortly after 5:30 a.m. and under the bulky helmets and protective gear were young men, not much older than my son in high school. Finishing their coffee from the Beckman’s house, they thanked Susan again and said they had to get back to work. And they didn’t mean back to the fire, they meant to their ‘real’ jobs. Many of the firefighters on the scene were volunteer fire fighters, putting themselves in harm’s way to help save historic Front Street.

Firefighters not only battled the blaze, but also helped to save some historical treasures from the South Carolina Maritime Museum. Volunteers worked nearly 20 years to get the Museum going and the treasures inside represent the rich history of our maritime community. “The Georgetown Fire department went into the museum and got all the model boats, our computer, prints and a/v equipment and brought it out to us. They were great about it and wanted to know if there was anything specific. They took out the two Opti Prams that are on display at the museum. By the way, they saved the building too,” said Johnny Weaver, SCMM Board Member.

Salvation Army Corps Office Lt. Loren Wallace and his wife have only been in the area for a month, and the fire was their first disaster since taking over the post in Georgetown. “The Salvation Army works to collaborate with other organizations to make sure that needs are met. “ After hearing about the fire, they loaded up the Mobile Feeding Unit they bring to disasters. “We can serve up to 350 meals an hour from the canteen, but also have snacks and drinks available to keep the first responders well hydrated” said Wallace. “The Red Cross takes the initial case work, from there they make referrals to other agencies like the Salvation Army for clothes, furniture and other needs.”

Tabitha Wallace with the Salvation Army was setting down an armful of pizzas that Little Ceasars had just donated when a firefighter on break stood up to help her; together they arranged the meal on the table, taking care to leave room for donations from Subway, Taco Bell, Lands End and Dominos. As she left, the female firefighter with the Georgetown County EMS, asked “are y’all keeping a list of everybody who is giving us food? We want to make sure we send a thank-you note to all of them.”

Thanks indeed to all the businesses who reached out and offered support. And thank you to the Georgetown Wooden Boat Show. In less than a month Georgetown is hosting the award-winning event along the waterfront and on historic Front Street. Dockmaster with the Wooden Boat Show and SCMM board member Johnny Weaver said “The boat show is on! We’re not gonna’ let this bring us down. We’re going to work to bring life back into the downtown area.”

Now, more than ever is the time to work together, reach out to the waterfront businesses who were destroyed and to support the efforts of all the relief organizations who serve our community.

Make it your business to keep it local.

Opinions that appear on this page in Letters to the Editor or in columns do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.


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