‘Devastated’ Aurora struggles

Published 12:29 am Friday, September 2, 2011

Debbie Cayton on Thursday clips bar codes from books ruined by Hurricane Irene at Aurora’s library. (WDN Photo/Jonathan Clayborne)

Residents pulling together in crisis

AURORA — Peggy May stood amid the rubble, a pitchfork in gloved hands.

She pointed to an old oak tree nearby.

“I was married under that oak tree,” she said.

The tree is still there.

Most of May’s house isn’t.

Located in the Jarvis Landing community, the house is one of an unknown number of dwellings demolished or severely damaged last weekend by Hurricane Irene.

Two Jarvis Landing residents narrowly escaped last Saturday’s rapidly rising tide by exiting through windows and swimming to safety with their dogs, according to May and Aurora Mayor Clif Williams.

Fortunately, no one died or was seriously injured at Jarvis Landing.

Rubble is everywhere on this isolated waterfront land east of Aurora.

Debris shoved by wind and water litters the woods across the road.

A mattress drapes the side of a ditch.

A boat rests against a sign marking the entrance to this row of lots, some of which are empty save the remnants of houses.

Tumbled cinder blocks and an empty lawn chair signify the spot where a house once stood.

Piles of splintered wood, glass and wet carpet line the road going in.

These cinder blocks were part of a house before Hurricane Irene demolished it and other homes in the Jarvis Landing community near Aurora. (WDN Photo/Jonathan Clayborne)

“It’s a hard pill to swallow,” May said. “We’ve got really good neighbors. It doesn’t get any easier coming around the corner.”

May is a part-time resident of Jarvis Landing. She has a year-round home in Grimesland.

Her mother is 87 years old, and a full-time resident of Jarvis Landing.

Her mother’s house was virtually wiped out, and May’s house was battered almost beyond recognition.

As she cleans up the property as much as possible, May has been collecting whatever she can find – especially pictures – and placing them in an apron-type pouch she wears around her waist.

“It’s turned into a treasure hunt,” she said.

May’s family has been gravitating toward Jarvis Landing for more than 60 years. Four generations of children have grown up on the family’s land.

Asked whether she would rebuild, she said, “Absolutely,” and added people were waiting for insurance adjustors to come by.

“Why would you not come back?” she asked, gesturing toward a broad vista that includes the Pamlico River and Pamlico Sound.

Jarvis Landing is just one of the east Beaufort County spots upended by Irene.

Five days after the hurricane, Aurora was still hard to get to.

Upon arriving in town, it wasn’t difficult to see why.

This rural municipality, with Edward to its west and neighborhoods to its east, was clobbered by the storm.

A stretch of N.C. Highway 33 was still blocked Thursday. A detour routed people around the blocked highway. Full access through the highway had been barred by an uncounted number of downed trees, most of which had been removed.

Seemingly dozens of utility trucks lined the roads.

On the way into town, one could see homes with most of their shingles ripped off, a tin roof rolled up in someone’s yard, at least three windows boarded up at a house.

In town, limbs were down in almost every direction.

Power had been restored to Aurora Wednesday night, said Williams, the mayor.

“This place has been devastated beyond anything we’ve ever seen,” he said.

Williams has lived here for 47 years.

On the upside, outside aid is hitting the streets here.

The Baptist and Methodist Men groups are in town, as are the National Guard and the American Red Cross.

“We’re getting so much attention right now it’s unbelievable,” Williams said, “and we’re very grateful for it.”

And the cleanup is in full swing on Main Street.

On Thursday afternoon, volunteer Debbie Cayton sat in front of the town library. Cayton was wearing a mask and gloves. She was clipping bar codes from books that were ruined when Irene shoved floodwaters up the street.

Cayton is a retired employee of the Beaufort-Hyde-Martin Regional Library system, of which the Aurora library is a part. She wanted to lend her support to getting the library back in shape.

There was plenty of work for her to do.

“The carpet is saturated,” she said from her seat on the sidewalk. “All the books on the lower two shelves of all the book cases are drenching wet. You can take a hardback book and wring water out of it. … The water came in with enough force in the children’s room it just washed the books right off the shelf.”

Inside the library, Mj Carbo, director of BHM, joined branch librarian Robina Norman in an attempt to get things dried out.

“I think everybody’s just overwhelmed,” Norman said. “People who have lived here their whole lives, 75 years old, don’t remember flooding this bad.”

BHM’s other library branches came out of the storm relatively unscathed, Carbo related.

But patrons had been stopping by Aurora’s library this week to see how they could lend assistance, Carbo said.

And there was Cayton, the retiree who gave of her time.

“I just couldn’t stay home and not help,” she said.