How to help

For information on how to help the McClellanville relief effort for Toms River, N.J., call Town Hall starting Tuesday: 1-843-887-3712.

MCCLELLANVILLE — The tractor-trailers lined the road — so far you couldn’t see an end to them.

They were loaded with food, water and supplies. One was packed with ice. People stood along the roadside asking for the help.

Pat Gross remembers what it was like 23 years ago, when her tiny fishing village had been torn apart and flooded by Hurricane Hugo.

The trucks, 38 in all, had come from Toms River, N.J.

Today, Toms River lies wracked by Superstorm Sandy. McClellanville residents are rallying to give what help they can.

“Oh, gosh, those people were absolutely wonderful,” said Gross, who volunteered to coordinate the relief supplies for the village.

“Getting a truck of water was wonderful for us. The town was covered in pluff mud and they brought soaps, wash cloths, diapers for the babies. The governor said all relief supplies go to Columbia. The people in Toms River said, no — we’re going to McClellanville. Electricians came with parts and repaired our breakers. This was at no cost to anyone but themselves.”

Gross was struggling with news about Toms River when Kathy Leland, the mayor’s wife, stopped by with tears in her eyes. That’s the mood in McClellanville today.

“We have to do something,” Gross said. “A lot of those guys who helped us, they’re not around anymore. Their children are going through this. We need to let them know McClellanville loves Toms River too.”

Toms River launched the mammoth volunteer relief effort after a van line driver was struck by the plight of the fishing town that reminded him of his own Toms River, on Barnegat Bay.

McClellanville, isolated at the edge of the shattered Francis Marion National Forest, hadn’t gotten help as quickly as other places.

The driver made a public plea for items to fill a truck. A radio disc jockey took up the call and one truck became more than three dozen. Tradespeople came out of the woodwork to help.

One of those electricians was Russ Koch, a lineman for a municipal power company, who brought along his son, Tom.

“I just decided I’m going to go down there,” he said Friday by phone.

Today, Koch has moved in temporarily with Tom on the mainland. His home on the Ortley Beach barrier island was swept by storm surge. He doesn’t know what shape it’s in, and won’t until residents are allowed to return. He hopes that will be Monday.

“It’s difficult,” he said by phone on Friday. “It’s very much like McClellanville was.” He too remembers the experience vividly, the trucks on the roadside because there was nowhere else for them to go, the people in lines behind the cargo trailers.

“To see the people, they were basically without help until supplies were brought in,” he said

Koch returned three or four more times to do what he could, and has continued to come back for visits.

When he comes, Mayor Rutledge Leland makes sure he leaves with a bag of Bulls Bay oysters from the dock at Carolina Seafood, which Leland owns.

“Toms River was one place among many that helped McClellanville. But they brought this huge caravan down here. They brought us fire trucks and everything,” Leland said. “I can remember standing on that road like it was yesterday.”

The people in Leland’s town now are asking how they can help. Leland is putting together a fund, contacting officials in Toms River to see what help and where the town can best provide. He hopes to firm up plans for the Town Council meeting Monday night.

The task is a little staggering.

Toms River, Leland points out, is a township of nearly 100,000 people, in a community of a half million.

McClellanville is a town of 500.

“Obviously, we can’t do what they did for us, on that scale,” he said. “But I’m sure those people are going through the same nightmare up there that we did.”

Hearing McClellanville wants to help is heartening for the displaced Koch. The town doesn’t owe Toms River anything, he stressed.

“When we came down there, it was to help people,” he said. But now, “I guess the tables are reversed. When I hear people from South Carolina want to help us, that’s wonderful.”

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on Twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.