"Some places are just bereft of volunteers," said
In the first couple of weeks after the hurricane, as the water rose in several river basins and pushed people out of their homes, school groups, churches and sympathetic North Carolinians and others from around the country sent thousands of tons of emergency supplies: bottled water, canned foods, cleaning chemicals, paper towels and baby diapers. They sent blankets and pillows, bags of used clothing. They dropped money into collection jars and wrote checks to aid agencies and the governor's relief fund.
Now that the water has receded and the scope of the damage is becoming clear in one community after another, homeowners need to move from disaster response to disaster recovery. And for that they need people.
First, their houses must be emptied -- mucked out or mudded, as volunteer leaders often say -- and stripped, often down to the studs and floor joists. Homeowners with adequate insurance can hire the work done, and some of those crews are on the job. But relief workers say a large percentage of those whose homes were badly damaged by the storm had little or no insurance, and will have to rely on some combination of
Volunteers from dozens of agencies from as far away as
There is some urgency; as houses sit with soggy carpets and wicking drywall, mold spreads, causing more damage. In addition, local governments using contractors to haul away debris must minimize the cost, and that means setting deadlines. In unincorporated areas of
"Where is everybody?" asked
Holderness, whose wife's store in downtown
"We're just a flash in the pan in terms of the news cycle," Holderness said. "With all the political junk in the news 24/7, it's like the hurricane came and went."
In fact, the two largest nongovernmental disaster recovery organizations in the state -- the United Methodists, based in
While the state does not track the number of homes damaged, the
Once their homes have been inspected, owners can request help with cleanup directly through the Baptists' or United Methodists' toll-free call centers, or find other agencies organizing volunteers through North Carolina Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, or VOAD. Volunteers can learn about work opportunities and offer their time through the call centers as well.
At times after Floyd, the United Methodists' relief organization managed 140 volunteers a day at different sites, Huffman said. This past week, just 40 to 50 Methodists were in the field each day under the group's umbrella.
Wendell's nine-member team all had different reasons for taking days off from their jobs and other obligations, but they came together with a sense of purpose, arriving at the home around
"We're still pouring the
Everything else piled up by the road: moldy furniture, ruined appliances, mattresses, clothing, shoes, a child's bicycle, picture frames. As the walls were torn down, drywall dust accumulated on the floor like snow. The air smelled like a dank cellar.
Volunteer groups come only at a homeowner's request, and work as long as they can be of help -- sometimes two years or more. After the clean-out, the stripped-down house may have to sit two months or more while the structural wood dries out and the homeowner decides whether to rebuild and how to pay for it. If the family can't afford to rebuild and the organization has enough funds, "We stay with them and hold their hand through the whole process," Harvell said.
It can be difficult work physically and emotionally, said
"I've got people calling, saying, 'Can you come help us?' And I have to tell them, we can't come help you right now," Moss said.
On social media and through its website, baptistsonmission.org, the organization is asking more people to lace up their boots, put on gloves and a mask and go to work. Generally, volunteers get fed, and those who can work more than one day may be housed on cots in local churches.
"You can give money, and we need money," Moss said. "But when a person uses their vacation and goes to a home and helps that person, it's not the home repairs and the clean-out that means so much to the survivor. It's that another human being is interacting with them. It breaks the heart of a survivor to see their home town out like that but when it's done, they say, 'I'm going to make it. I'm going to survive this.'
"It's life from the ashes," Moss said. "it's what most people need: It's hope."
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