For survivors, Irene damage lingers

Published 9:09 pm Saturday, August 25, 2012

Annie Kelly (left) and Flora Dixon enjoy the peaceful view from Kelly’s front porch. Kelly said the porch was one of her favorite places and she missed it while displaced by Irene. (WDN Photo/Mona Moore)

Annie Kelly and Flora Nixon are not the same people they were before Hurricane Irene.
They and a third sister live on the same plot of land they have called home all their lives, but they have grown to appreciate it more than ever after being displaced by Irene.
For the months she was without a home, Kelly said she missed sitting on her front porch. Acres of lush green farmland spread out before her and every car that passed by was a waving friend.
“It’s quiet and peaceful and it’s just home to me,” she said.
Irene was anything but peaceful. Expecting the usual rain and wind of past hurricanes, Kelly and Nixon rode out Irene together in Kelly’s home.
“When we looked out the window and saw that water rolling down the road with white caps like the ocean, there was nothing we could do but pray,” Kelly said.
From September to November, Nixon and Kelly stayed in a motel in New Bern. They would drive back and forth each day seeking help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, filling out the appropriate paperwork and checking on what was left of their homes.
Nixon said that was the worst period for her.
“I really felt like I didn’t have a home,” she said. “I guess you would call it a process of survival because you really didn’t know what would happen from one day to the next and that’s a bad feeling.”
Nixon’s home was condemned after the flooding damage. She said she misses sleeping in her own bed. It’s a luxury she hasn’t had since Irene.
After the hurricane, she moved from a New Bern motel, to an apartment with a friend and then a FEMA trailer with Kelly.
All but two or three of their Bay City Road neighbors were affected by Irene’s flooding.
“At one time, it looked like a little ghost community,” Nixon said.
She has happily watched the neighborhood return to life. The homes are in varying stages of restoration, much of it by the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church Disaster Response Committee.
Volunteer teams from the organization rebuilt Kelly’s home and are in the process of replacing Nixon’s.
“They are God-sent angels. They really are,” Dixon said. “If you’d known all of the people we’ve had to come through our homes this year… they’re just so loving.”
Kelly’s walls had to be replaced from the chair rails down to the floor joists. The long process required an extension from FEMA for Nixon and Kelly to keep the trailer beyond June 1. Nixon applied for a trailer at the same time as Kelly, but never received one.
The pair now stays in Kelly’s renovated home as Nixon awaits the completion of a newly built home next door.
“Nevertheless, we found out through the process of living in a FEMA trailer, we didn’t need all that we had,” Nixon said. “Just a little simple life.”
Kelly agreed with her sister. She said all of this year’s hardships were for a reason.
“I have learned a lot from this experience. It made us appreciate life more, that life is more than stuff,” Kelly said. “I found out that material things aren’t important to me anymore.”
Together with four young children, Ken and Gloria Adams had to be rescued from their N.C. Highway 33 home just outside of Aurora.
The children were distraught.
“They were praying, crying a lot, everything,” Ken said.
Listening to her father talk about last year’s events, 4-year-old Kenberly, seemed convinced that the hurricane was coming again. Ken warmly told her it wasn’t, but the family has watched the storm brewing in the Atlantic this week, dreading what could happen.
“We were praying that the storm would turn because we would be in the same boat,” Ken said.
The water reached 18 inches above the floors inside their home and four feet in the backyard. Ken waded through water that reached his neck during the rescue from his front steps.
“It came from both sides,” he said of the water.
The UMC Disaster Response Team did the majority of the home’s restoration, replacing walls, floors, windows, kitchen cabinets and appliances.
“They gave me a lot of work and they definitely wouldn’t take any money. We tried,” Ken said. “We’ve been blessed by the best.”
But the home still sits in the low-lying lot surrounded by a creek and canal. It would face the same fate in the event of another hurricane, Ken said. He has received estimates of $54,000 to raise the home.
The Adams family lived with one of Ken’s classmates for a month after Irene. They spent the second month commuting to work and school in Aurora from a hotel in Washington. Their holidays were spent in a FEMA trailer on their lot. The six of them were comfortable in the three-bedroom unit. Ken still misses his $25 power bills while they were in the trailer.
He also misses the volunteers who helped restore the Adams home. He recalled the first team who came, a group out of Maryland.
After a week of hard work, the volunteers and the family gathered in an unfinished living room, passed a hammer and shared their experiences that week.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the room,” he said.
Ken said he and his wife prayed every day that the Lord would have them back in their home and never lost faith that it would happen. They returned faster than they expected and grew closer as a family from the experience.
Ken echoed the lessons Dixon and Kelly had learned from Irene.
“We realize what life is now. It’s not about what you have, but what you can do with what you have,” he said with a smile. “We believe in the Lord, trust in the Lord and everything’s lovely.”