A balancing act: Coronavirus complicates Seneca tornado relief efforts
Hundreds remained without power and an unknown number of people have been displaced from their Seneca homes after an EF3 tornado ripped with winds over 160 mph through Oconee County early Monday morning, killing at least one person in the area.
Seneca was under a nighttime curfew Monday and Tuesday as emergency workers cleared debris. The curfew was lifted by Wednesday night, but residents were still encouraged to stay home and cautioned to avoid wires on the ground, according to a statement from the city.
As of Tuesday morning, the city of Seneca counted at least five "minor injuries" and one death at the BorgWarner manufacturing plant, city administrator Scott Moulder said. The city has not been made aware of any missing or unaccounted for residents, he said, and they do not know the number of people who have been displaced.
Damaged areas are barricaded to speed up clean-up efforts around Seneca, including Utica and Mill Hill, and access is limited to only those who have a reason to be there.
"The city is completely bordered off all around the affected areas. There's two ways in and out," Moulder said.
Here are the access points:
- The intersection of Wells Highway and Highway 59
- The intersection of Highway 59 and E. North First Street
"Yesterday we had so many sightseers that have made it extremely dangerous and difficult for our response teams. So, from here forward until we feel like we can safely open it up, it will be controlled access," Moulder told The Independent Mail and Greenville News.
A Monday night curfew allowed crews to clear roadways of debris and fallen wires, Moulder said. There were no reports of looting – something the city feared yesterday – and most people cooperated with the stay-at-home mandate, Moulder said.
The Red Cross is out in the city of Seneca and beyond Tuesday to assess damage and connect with people who will need assistance, according to Palmetto Region Director of Communications Ben Williamson.
The Red Cross does not know exactly how many people have been impacted, but anticipates serving dozens of people in the Oconee County area, Williamson said. Those who have been displaced will be sent to nearby hotels, as shelters are not safe amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Williamson explained.
"A hotel is a safer option during COVID 19," he wrote in an email to The Independent Mail.
Williamson added that anyone who needs help can call 1-800-REDCROSS.
Thousands of volunteers to help in clean-up efforts
Moulder said thousands of people have volunteered to aid in clean-up efforts around the impacted neighborhoods. The volunteers are being managed by the Incident Command Center at City Hall, which is closed to the public until further notice.
"We have a large group of people out helping private property owners with their specific needs," he said.
Anyone wishing to volunteer can call the following phone numbers between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. to enlist their help.
- (864) 364-5428
- (864) 364-5436
Moulder asked that volunteers do not show up to impacted areas or city hall without first calling the phone numbers.
Other ways you can help Seneca:
- To help the Red Cross, donations can be made by calling 1-800-REDCROSS or at www.redcross.org
- United Way of Oconee and the Salvation Army have set up Seneca Tornado Relief Fund to aid in efforts. Mail a check to P.O. Box 1693, Seneca, SC 29679; carry a check to any Oconee Federal Savings and Loan Branch; or Venmo a donation to the username @United Way-Oconee.
- Donate water and gatorade to the Salvation Army at 109 Debra Street, Seneca, SC
This story will be updated.
Zoe covers Clemson for The Greenville News and Independent Mail. Reach her at email@example.com or Twitter @zoenicholson_