Thursday, September 20, 2018

Hurricane Florence - The Aftermath

My heart is hurting. There is no other way to put it. Putting the collection of thoughts into words is difficult this time around - because what do you say when there is devastation around you? I started writing this on Tuesday night, but I've had a hard time hitting publish because it's hard to know what to say. I am thankful that the storm is past us, but for many, the true storm is just getting started. When I pulled out of Wilmington, skies were grey, fear was looming, and the unknown of the days to follow were all-consuming. We locked our house, where valuables inside were in a waterproof safe or in plastic bins in case the worst occurred. My car was packed full, complete with our dog and cat, and we drove off down Interstate 40, unaware of what the days before us would hold. 

When I pulled back into Wilmington on Tuesday, skies were blue, after days of pouring rain. I was beyond thankful for the sun, and on the surface-level seemed like a perfect September day. And yet, it's another day in the aftermath of a storm that our state will never forget. My family and I are lucky - Stephen and I, along with my parents, made it back to Wilmington safely to find minimal damage, and I thank the Lord for this blessing. Sure, there is a lot of cleanup ahead with downed trees, leaks, damaged property, etc. But as a whole, we are safe, happy, and healthy. We are home. And many people will not have that same experience in the coming weeks.

The pit in my stomach started last Tuesday. It's been a week, and it's still here. Not because we aren't safe, because we are. But because from the moment we realized this storm was headed our way, I've had this sick feeling that I haven't been able to shake. We all knew the devastation this storm could cause and I can't imagine what it would've been like if the forecast of a Category 4 landfall had occurred, because the devastation I have already seen is unreal. The Category 1 storm that wouldn't leave North Carolina has left flooding beyond belief. People have lost their lives, their homes, everything they own. And it truly has me sick. When Hurricane Floyd hit this area in 1999, we all hoped and prayed that we would never see that kind of damage again. I was a little girl when we evacuated my home due to flooding. And yet, not even 20 years later, the damage is even worse and my heart breaks for those whose homes have been overtaken by flood waters. 

I've seen some of that devastation first-hand, both in Wilmington and outside of it. In the neighborhood where I grew up, many homes have 5+ feet of water inside. Some of these homes belong to my family members and friends. In rural communities in Southeastern NC, homes were swept away or completely submerged, leaving owners with literally nothing. I can't imagine being rescued from my home - thankful my life was saved - but knowing that everything I have is completely gone. Can you? 

The positive I have seen from this storm is the way that North Carolina and states beyond our borders have come together. Before the hurricane could even hit, a group of students from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington had put together a group called We Wilm Rebuild, so that as soon as the storm passed, they could be on the ground helping others. Churches have opened up as shelters to both evacuees and those in town to help others. The Cajun Navy has arrived on their own dimes to perform water rescues. Fundraisers are popping up everywhere - anything and everything to help those in need. First responders have been responding to calls since the first bands of the storm - they haven't slept, or had a meal, or seen their families in days as they seek to help their communities.

There are linemen everywhere you turn in Wilmington - restoring power and order to our city, which two days ago, was cut off completely from everywhere else due to extensive flooding. I took the photo below on Monday morning - and I40 was truly an interstate turned river. The same road that I took out of town is now covered in water, looking more like a body of water than a highway. Flooding was so bad that at one point, Wilmington was virtually an island - with no access in and out of the city which meant no access to supplies. And that water that covers the interstate in Duplin and Pender Counties also covers peoples homes.
People are ready for power. For the debris in their yards to be removed. For the line at the grocery store to subside. And I get it. I do. Life has been turned upside down for North Carolinians. But so many people don't have that luxury to wonder about, because they have truly lost everything. I have never been more thankful for the roof over my head as so many go to sleep tonight wondering what the next weeks will hold for them. 

So how can we help? There are so many people and organizations who are putting together programs to benefit these victims directly. Shelters need more food and water, individuals need clothing due to loss of home, and those responsible for putting our community back together could use a meal and a bottle of water. Below is a list of programs that I will be supporting in one way or another. If you have one you would recommend, please share so that it can be added to the list. 
  • We Wilm Rebuild - UNCW student-run organization to get Wilmington back on its feet
  • ZIA Boutique - will be accepting clothing and personal item donations for organizations in New Hanover and surrounding counties 
  • CAREolinas - 100% of funds raised from these tees will go toward recovery efforts
  • Volunteering - there are organizations everywhere looking for volunteers to help with disaster relief efforts
  • Hurricane Relief for Willard, NC - local area relief program with proceeds going to those who were left with little
If you are able to help - even just a little bit - please consider doing so! 

And a few more thoughts on this last week:

Hurricane Florence is pulling away from your driveway and wondering if you'll have a home when you return.

Hurricane Florence is sitting on pins and needles as tornado warning after tornado warning pop on your phone. And throughout all of that, your brother and two cousins are in a trailer close to their farms praying it doesn't hit them. 

Hurricane Florence is the gut-wrenching heartbreak of seeing a mother and her child killed by a fallen tree or of a family left with nothing to their name. 

Hurricane Florence is a lot of things - devastation, heartbreak, fear, unrest - but what I've found through all of this is that there is also hope.

Hope is communities coming together to help each other.

Hope is linemen coming from states far and wide to help put our cities and towns back together. Countless teams were working until dark on our road to provide power to our community.

Hope is working with others to move personal belongings to higher ground in preparation of rising flood waters.

Hope is perfect strangers sharing information with each other as they try to find ways home.

Hope is the bags and bags of clothing that fill a dressing room at my store, waiting to go to those that have lost everything.

Hope is rescue teams like the Cajun Navy who traveled on their own dimes to offer water rescues, support and more.

Hope is our state coming together to help the communities that were gravely affected. 

It's been a dark week for North Carolina - and the darkness isn't ending. But there is light! I am hopeful that our communities will continue to come together in the coming weeks to help others. I pray for our state in this time of rebuilding. For the people who have lost loved ones. For the farmers who are fighting to save their livestock. For the first responders out on the flooded waters. For the linemen restoring power. For the people who have evacuated and wonder where they will live. I pray for our city. Our community. Our state. Our state is strong. And we will rebuild.
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