Hurricane Matthew Disaster Relief Update: Nov. 14
I don’t think many of us quite knew what we were getting ourselves in to. We had seen the news stories last month. But since that time, the floodwaters have receded and the news stories have become less frequent. Must mean everything’s back to normal, right? Along some roads, and in some neighborhoods, you’d be right. But if you move to the next neighborhood or town over, you couldn’t be more wrong.
Hurricane Matthew battered Southeastern NC early last month, bringing unprecedented flooding and keeping schools out for three weeks. Its effects were perhaps felt hardest in Robeson County, home to the state’s highest poverty rate. Since the storm hit, entire neighborhoods have been largely ruined or abandoned because of the floodwaters. Those are the types of homes that our Forest Hills’ disaster relief team encountered from Nov. 11-12.
The first home we worked on belonged to Mr. J in Lumberton. During the storm, heavy rainwater overflowed his street, crept into his yard, and flooded the crawlspace beneath his house. The insulation and duct work beneath his floor are ruined, and water is still trapped within the crawlspace. In the past month, his floor has started to buckle and walking in, you could begin to smell mildew. Our job at his house was to move his furniture out of the house and into a storage shed in the backyard.
Mr. J couldn’t do this by himself because he had a heart attack (with a greater than 90% blockage) just two weeks ago. Couple that with the fact that his sister died the week of the hurricane, and the past month or so has been traumatic to say the least. In spite of all these setbacks, Mr. J couldn’t have been nicer to our mission team. As we removed his possessions, he couldn’t help but express his sadness at the sight. This was his home that we were packing up and moving outside. Soon, the interior will have to be stripped bare and made safe once again. Mr. J looks forward in hope to the day that his home will truly be “home” once again and we continue to lift him up in prayer as his health and home face the difficult task of recovery together.
After finishing work in Lumberton, we were sent to a new site in Fairmont, a small town just south of Lumberton. As we drove out of town, we had to make a detour because a major bridge was still washed out. Nothing prepared us for what we were about to see on that detour. Driving through just two blocks of a neighborhood, every home we saw had been completely gutted. All the insulation, duct work, and belongings that had once been inside were now piled up on the street. With each house we passed, we looked on in shock and sadness at the homes and lives that had been devastated in this already depressed neighborhood. Getting back on the main road, we continued to process what we had just seen and what that meant for the overall recovery process in this region.
Pulling into Fairmont, we arrived at the home of 90 year-old Ms. L. After the storm hit, a nearby creek flooded her home, reaching a height of nearly 3 feet within her house. She hasn’t been back since. Her son-in-law met us at the house and walked us through the modest, concrete block house that Ms. L’s late husband built himself in the early 1960s.
Walking through the house, mold was on nearly every surface and object. Everything had to go. Slowly, we began moving all of Ms. L’s possessions out of her house and setting them by the road. Her family began to pick through and salvage whatever they could. They were obviously grieving the loss of this place that held so many memories for them. We offered words of comfort when we could, but the work continued.
Within an hour or so, the house was empty and the tear-out officially began. First, the soaking wet baseboards had to pulled up. Next, the wood paneling that was warped and moldy had to go. Breathing through our respirators, we worked from room to room stripping everything off of the walls and floor. By the end of our time there on Saturday, all that remained was the floor, the concrete walls, and the ceiling. Another group from the NC Baptist Men will pick up where we left off and will begin the difficult task of ripping out the flooded crawlspace, pulling down the moldy ceiling, and determining whether or not the wood floors can be saved.
For the foreseeable future, our partners in disaster relief will continue this tear out work. The rebuilding of these homes will not begin until after the New Year, at the earliest. Until then, families will continue to live in a state of limbo. Some will continue to stay with relatives; others will depend on FEMA funds to cover their extended stays in local hotels. No matter where they find themselves for the holidays, they won’t be home, and that will certainly affect their outlook during perhaps the most festive season of the year.
But while their spirits might continue to be saddened and depressed in the short-term, we hold on to the long-term hope found in Jesus Christ. We cling to the words of our Savior, who declares that, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). While it might not look like it to us, our brothers and sisters like Mr. J and Ms. L are blessed. They’re blessed because in their suffering, Christ draws near to them. He knows what it’s like to suffer, because He suffered and endured the pain of the cross to grant us the gift of life eternal with God.
Christ has been with the suffering long before we arrived and He’ll be with them long after we leave. What we can do in the meantime is continue to join God where He is at work in our corner of the world. We can continue to send willing workers to assist in recovery efforts. We can continue to send much-needed money and supplies to aid those hardest hit. And above all, we can pray for the restoration and healing of this community.
Next week, we’ll be providing more information about our next steps to assist this region during the Christmas season and beyond. We pray that you’ll be moved to join us as we seek to join Christ at work in the rebuilding and recovery of this region.