A Tale of Two Cities… Both Named Columbia

November 1, 2015

It was the worst of times here in early October of this year. No matter how much you prepared for record rainfall, you couldn’t prepare for the city-wide failing of dams and breaches in water filtration. 

Pockets of the city were submerged; streets were washed away.  Water was shut-off completely in many parts for several hours. Once restored, it had to be boiled before usage to avoid illness from contamination.  Columbia, South Carolina was in a state of emergency.

Residents in another Columbia, located in Mississippi, watched from afar as its kindred city waded through a catastrophe. These cities are connected by more than a name. The Mississippi town was previously called Lott’s Bluff, but it changed its name to Columbia when it incorporated in 1819 “in memory of a district and town back in South Carolina” from where its early settlers originated. 

There was more.  When a terrible tornado swept through the Mississippi town in December of 2014, a Columbian in South Carolina, Catherine Fleming Bruce, created the ‘Columbia SC for Columbia MS: tornado relief’ Facebook page, providing a way for residents of the ‘Famously Hot’ City to help the Mississippi victims.

Nine months later, after a city-wide water shutoff in her own town and a contamination warning that included hospitals, Bruce returned to Facebook. This time, she invited the people of Columbia, Mississippi to help provide clean water for patients and health care workers in the affected hospitals.  After 18 hours of collections in Mississippi, two 18-wheeler truckloads of bottled water headed to Columbia, SC — more than 650 miles away. Mayor Steve Benjamin was among the grateful individuals greeting the delivery.

This would be a fine ending to this story… but there’s more.  In addition to the much needed water, the Mississippi city collected a large sum of cash contributions.

On October 30 at 9:30 a.m., Bruce and her Mississippi counterparts presented the financial contributions to Providence Hospitals, Palmetto Health Hospitals, and the Dorn VA Medical Center.  They also presented Stars of HOPE (http://starsofhopeusa.org/), an initiative that began post 9-11 to inspire, uplift and empower disaster survivors by decorating effected areas with star-shaped art made by children.  Providence Hospitals received a purple star, made by a Mississippian named Carly.  It reads “If God is 4 us who can be against us?”

While it was the worst of times that called across state borders, it was the best of humanity that traversed it.  “I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss,” wrote Charles Dickens.  How true those words are today.