A new home rises from Florence’s floodwaters

Published 7:27 pm Thursday, July 11, 2019

It’s not often that a homeowner embarks on a complete remodel of a house. Replacing hardwood floors, baseboards, knocking down walls, building new bathrooms and a new kitchen, all new appliances — this type of renovation is a rarity.

It’s one that many eastern North Carolinians have experienced over the past year, but not by choice. Many of Hurricane Florence’s victims are just now returning to their homes after the flood.

Ashley Jones is one of them. The Washington Park resident evacuated to her parents’ house during Florence, knowing her Fairview Avenue home could flood — it had flooded in 1999 during Hurricane Floyd. Florence rolled in on Sept. 13, 2018, and hung around from Thursday to Saturday; by Friday, Jones had paid her house a visit via an unusual method. She went by kayak.

AFTER THE FLOOD: Though Florence floodwaters had receded, Jones’ house remained surrounded by water for a couple of days during the storm. (Ashley Jones)

“The water had receded down out of the house, but you still had to kayak in,” Jones said. “I just remember that several people had been up here, and they said, ‘I don’t think you had water.’ When I walked in, there wasn’t a trash line, but when I walked across the rugs, they were squishing under my feet. I don’t know — it was just shock and ‘What do I do from here?’ All the thoughts racing through your mind: where do you go next?”

It was an enormous learning curve, an odyssey in cleaning out a home after flooding, learning about insurance claims, filing them correctly, finding storage space for all her belongings, living with her parents, learning if her house could be raised, waiting for her house to be raised, then waiting for all the renovation work to be finished. It was a lesson in patience winning out over frustration.

“It was the frustration of things not moving as quickly as I wanted them to move, and just not knowing where all your stuff is,” she said.

UP IN THE AIR: Jones’ home appears to hang in mid-air as it awaits a concrete-block foundation a few months ago. Until all systems were reworked to accommodate the new height, the home was unlivable. (Ashley Jones)

Jones moved back into her three-bedroom, two-bath brick ranch house last week. It’s had a complete makeover: the oak floors are new and now expanded into the kitchen where linoleum once was; the wall between the kitchen and dining area and another, enclosing a small foyer, have both been removed; both bathrooms were gutted and rebuilt, as was the kitchen; new appliances have been installed. Inside, it’s airy and light, a coastal design in calming blues, greens, beige and white. Outside, it now sits 10 feet above the ground — closer to flood-proof than ever before.

“The best part of this experience is, I would have to say, the blessings that came along the way, the people you got to meet. I think all the people who were in the same boat — no pun intended — who were going through the same thing, the unity, the support, sharing information,” Jones said. “The Methodist Men came two days after the flood. They had all this knowledge and expertise because they do this all the time, and they were a huge blessing. …

Somebody put it into perspective for me, somebody who’d also been flooded: once you get past the frustration of it all, having essentially a new house makes all the frustration and headaches worth it.”

DURING THE STORM: Taken from Ashley Jones’ back deck during Hurricane Florence, this photo shows Washington Park inundated by floodwaters. (Ashley Jones)

Over the past year, the lessons have continued to come, some out of necessity; some out of reflection.

“I have knowledge about the ins and outs of construction; I learned a lot about plumbing—all the little things I didn’t know anything about, but now I do,” Jones said. “You find out you don’t need a lot of stuff. There’s a lot of stuff that you accumulate over time that you find you don’t need, so I donated a lot of stuff to Ruth’s House and Purpose of God.”

AFTER THE STORM: Today, the deck is lifted 10 feet off the ground and the home has gained a view of the Pamlico River down Oak Street toward Isabella Avenue. (Vail Stewart Rumley/Daily News)

Giving back doesn’t end there for Jones. Now that her house is raised high in the air—in the process, gaining a sliver of a Pamlico River view from the back deck—she won’t have to do much hurricane prep at all.

“I won’t have to prepare as much for flooding or the potential of getting water in my house. Now that I’m out of flood danger at my house, I can jump in and help people, the way people helped me. I can be of help to somebody else now.”