Recorded by Mary Ellen Huey
How appropriate are the words of the late Billy Graham: “God has given us two hands, one to receive with and the other to give with!” Seven Early Response Team members experienced the wisdom of these words when listening to people in their later years of life share of the destruction, damage to their homes, and definite life-changing experiences resulting from Hurricane Florence.
This major weather event impacted the Down East area near Beaufort, North Carolina with sustained 2.5 feet of flooding. This was the third time this century that hurricanes have devastated the area: Isabel in 2003; Irene in 2011, and now Florence on Sept 13 2018 at 3:40 AM.
Upon our arrival from Washington State and Northern California, we were welcomed by the Ann Street United Methodist Church in Beaufort with warm classrooms, a full kitchen, and showers. Beaufort is the third oldest town in the state and the bell in the Ann Street church tower dates back to the American Revolution (one of 13 placed in the original 13 colonies).
In our orientation meeting we learned the Mayor of Beaufort remained “captain of his watch” and stayed throughout the hurricane, high winds, tornados, and flooding! Frequently we were reminded that the people are proud and do not seek help willingly. Around 1,000 people in the Down East area are without homes. Many who are unable to secure FEMA assistance are living in water-soaked, moldy, and unhealthy homes.
After the storm, Ann Street UMC opened wide their doors and served over 60,000 meals, hosting a Free Store where they distributed cleaning supplies, UMCOR buckets, drinking water, food, pet food, etc. And ERT teams were activated to make need assessments. Trucks arrived with supplies from Raleigh and monetary donations continue to arrive. Three UMCOR tool trailers are well-supplied and made available for teams. A Housing Fair allowed those affected or displaced from the storm to connect with representatives from FEMA, Red Cross, insurance, real estate and rental companies as well as local/state, and national disaster programs. The Command Center for the area is located in the church office and referrals for assistance are prioritized. Although Ann Street UMC had an Emergency Plan, they found it was necessary to continually adapt and evolve their plan in the face of such a large disaster. Recently the Baptist churches have joined efforts with the United Methodists to continue to provide for the people and clean-up efforts.
Prior to beginning on Monday morning, two church members treated us to the local breakfast nook “The PIG” in the Piggly Wiggly market. Team members expected to see miles of destruction; however, water and wind damage is difficult to see. Indeed we witnessed the many fallen trees and piles of debris along the road sides and piled higher than the local school in a designated park. When we arrived at six different homes, the water damage and black mold became evident of what remained.
The owner of our first home is an elderly lady, Nancy. She had been away from her home since early August to be with her husband who lost his battle with cancer the week before we arrived. When Nancy returned to her family home that her Daddy had built, she found the living room and dining room were water-soaked. Fortunately her children were able to move the less damaged furniture to the second floor bedrooms. Our leader, Steve, spent hours under the house clearing out insulation for other team members to pile up along the road. Kristin and Bill were intrigued by the skeleton of an animal head found on Halloween in the moldy and water-soaked insulation. Doug cut off the wall board in a nearby bathroom that also had been saturated, while Noriko, Gordon, and Mary Ellen moved furniture in the upstairs to remove carpet. Although Nancy desired to keep the wood flooring, the water damage will require its removal and full reconstruction of the main floor. We worked steadily for a day and a half in a beautiful rural setting in Smyrna, North Carolina. John Dutton, pastor of Willington and Stacy UMC churches, who had referred Nancy for our assistance and visited us at lunch time. And Ray, the on-site supervisor surprised us with pizza.
For years Nancy was an EMT for the local area and Mary Ellen learned that she had served on three UMC Volunteers in Mission medical trips to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Panama. Tears of joy filled her eyes and Nancy was warmly touched during the prayer circle before we departed. She was presented with a prayer shawl made by the Ann Street UMC women’s group, and a prayer quilt lovingly made by the Prayers and Squares group at Lynnewood UMC in Pleasanton, California.
Our second homeowner, Norma, is a young at heart 81-year-old woman who was at a church meeting when the hurricane raced into the area where a tree barely missed the fellowship hall and “sounded and felt like an earthquake”. Eleven, including Norma and other adults and children, remained at the church for several weeks. Fortunately the church is prepared with an emergency management system and Norma is CERT certified. The 158 mile winds blew her back door to the garage open and 16 inches of rain and wind forced water inside and into the house and destroyed the garage door. When she entered her home she found water and “stinky” black marsh residue throughout her single story home. Norma offered her first impression, “It is not what it looked like, but what it could have been!” A lady who has had two lung operations and is continuously coughing and wheezing worked with a female deacon and cleaned up the muck and residue of 16 inches of water throughout her home prior to our ERT assistance. Just recently Norma was recognized as a “female pioneer” with the National Park Service where she managed parks throughout the United States.
Our motley crew repaired the tarp on the roof, put up vinyl siding, cleaned awnings, removed rubbish, and scrubbed the large porch of mold and mud. Norma was advised to call the local fire department to burn the two large piles of rubbish in a controlled fashion. To feed our souls, Kay, a friend of Norma’s brought a “dump” cake as a thank you. Once again we held a prayer circle and Norma was presented with a handmade prayer shawl and quilt to offer the warmth of caring women of the two before mentioned United Methodist Churches. The waterside location abounded in God’s beauty against the previous dark days of only seven weeks after the hurricane.
Thursday allowed the team to acquire better understanding of the assessment process for three homes referred for ERT assistance. Kudos are extended to our leader, Steve, for his knowledge of finding hidden areas to look for damage. Additionally he underscored our purpose to satisfy the three S’s of an ERT: Safe, Sanitary, and Secure. An additional training of assessment is strongly suggested for all ERT members!
The first home was in Williamson where it was determined that no ERT work would be assigned. A second home was inhabited by a middle-aged couple and their son and his family. The wind and rain had caused water to accumulate at the threshold of their front door. However, the house was built on a high foundation and the fix could be completed by the homeowner. It was discovered that there was lots of moisture under the house and the team advised removing the trellis fencing that was placed to keep out animals but closed off the airflow needed for full ventilation. No ERT work was recommended.
Our third assessment was at the summer home of a retired veteran and his wife who recently had strokes. Al, the owner, desired to have it repaired as a dose of medicine and hope for his wife’s memories of a loving family home. The winds were so severe that the transformer was buried right into the ground. Water damage, mildew on all furniture and surfaces, and buckling floors were shared with the owner. Recommendations were made to ventilate the home, scrub down the surfaces, and a referral for ERT assistance at a later date. Ray, the son-in-law, offered to Mary Ellen, the team listener: “There are others who are desperate and need help more than we do, so please note us as a lower priority!” Blessings and grace to this amazing and compassionate man!
On the final days of our mission we worked at the home of Bill and Theresa. They had evacuated with two horses, two dogs, and a barn cat to the Winston-Salem area prior to the storm. Their son arrived back in the area before Bill and Theresa and called his parents to share the devastation. Three large pine trees had fallen across their roof. puncturing the house. One limb planted itself into the middle of the master bed! Not only did the trees fall, but a tornado twisted the limbs and trees as if a large curling iron had been used. Of course the wind and 13-14 inches of rain which followed ensured that the home was water-soaked. This was one of the worst homes affected by the hurricane where the state’s Governor visited to review the damage as well as to observe and applaud the amazing outpouring of volunteers. We were pleased to meet Theresa’s dear friend, Katherine, who visited during our workdays and has opened up her vacation home to Bill and Theresa.
Another team had removed most of the wallboard; however, the piles were in every room and our many trips across a busy highway resulted in the rubbish pile growing extensively. Gordon proudly shared that he was able to meet the 10,000 steps on his FitBit two days in a row! My how Bill, known as “Montana” Bill, relived his days on the farm, eagerly driving Bill’s tractor with trailer to the rubbish pile with sinks, cabinets, and heavier loads.
Every team member engaged in a variety of chores including cutting up the bathroom cabinets and ripping down the sheetrock, removing wood flooring, chiseling and pounding out tile, removing a plethora of carpet nails, and nails where drywall was once attached, as well as removing cabinets in the kitchen. Singing abounded and a satisfaction of doing for others warmed our hearts. The horses in the pasture offered a scenic backdrop for our breaks and lunches. Theresa shared that she and her husband have lost weight, cried, and questioned, “Where is God?” This will be the first Thanksgiving in 22 years where they will not entertain family and friends. However, Theresa acknowledges that their Family, Friends, and Faith have been their rock and salvation throughout this life changing event.
Although we had anticipated seeing blocks of devastation, when working or assessing homes, it became evident that water and wind damage is not so visible until one enters the otherwise pretty houses in this beautiful area of North Carolina. The mildew, mold, and missing furniture are glaring reminders of the damage of Hurricane Florence. Not only did we extend our hands to help, but also our hearts and hands are filled with the gratitude expressed to us. God’s grace is powerful and like the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, each person cannot fathom one’s ripples of influence! All of us look forward to sharing this experience again and encourage others to consider the call to serve! The pleasure was ours and to God we give all the glory!
Steve Meacham (team leader), Bill Price, Noriko Lao,
Gordon and Kristin Ellison-Oslin, Mary Ellen and Doug Huey
Mary Ellen Huey is from the California-Nevada Annual Conference and served as a member of this first Early Response Team (Oct. 28-Nov. 4) from the Western Jurisdiction to North Carolina.