March 12--HOPE MILLS -- Over the past five months, contractors have trickled in and out of the Walker home on Booker Place, filling it with constant pounding as they hung drywall and installed tiles throughout the first floor.
The home has come a long way from the destruction caused by Hurricane Matthew's flooding, which claimed furniture and family treasures.
At one point, the Walkers inventoried their damaged items and wondered if their home was even salvageable. Almost every home on their on their street was impacted by the storm, James Walker said.
"We got to know our neighbors a little better, not the way we wanted to," Walker chuckled. "I knew it was going to be bad, but not like this. I have never seen anything like this."
Hurricane Matthew was one of the most devastating storms in North Carolina history, turning most of the southeastern part of the state into a flood zone.
The slow moving storm did not pack the punch of other hurricanes in terms of wind speeds, but it made up for it with rain. Fayetteville recorded an official total of 14.8 inches on Oct. 8. Some surrounding areas were drenched by even more.
In Cumberland County, low-lying neighborhoods were flooded, in some cases to the rooftops. Other counties were hit even harder: much of Lumberton in Robeson County was under water for days. In Columbus County, downtown Fairmont was all but destroyed.
Water rescue crews from across the country descended on the state, helping hundreds of families escape flooded homes.
Officials estimated damage to homes, businesses and government buildings at $1.5 billion statewide. And that didn't include agricultural losses.
Across the state, 26 people died in the storm. Most of them were killed on the roads when they were caught by or drove into floodwaters.
Since the storm, the North Carolina legislature met to pass a bill to provide $201 million to respond to the hurricane damage as well as destructive wildfires in the western part of the state. The Federal Emergency Management Authority has provided millions more in direct aid, including housing assistance for those whose homes were rendered uninhabitable by the flooding.
Today, businesses and residents in Fayetteville continue to rebuild on their paths to normalcy. Cumberland County, which FEMA described as one of the hardest hit areas in North Carolina, has received more than $15.5 million to assist thousands of people.
Walker, a police officer in Fayetteville, had been working overnight when the hurricane brushed the state late Friday. He woke up on Saturday to rain, but expected the storm to turn back toward Florida as some forecasts predicted.
The power went out in the Walker home around 4 p.m., so he was going to run down the street to a restaurant for dinner. "I stepped outside and saw the water rising," he said. "Water was reaching the steps."
Walker and his wife Stephanie decided to move their cars up a hill in the neighborhood. They stayed put until about 7 p.m., when they realized they had to get out of the neighborhood or risk being stuck there.
The couple and their 13-year-old son, Matthew, stayed with family members Saturday night.
When they returned the next morning, Walker said he was shocked to see the incredible damage caused by the water.
The garage had 5 feet of water in it. The house had 3 feet throughout the bottom story.
"Everything was knocked over," he said. "There was mud all in the house. I never expected this."
His wife was heartbroken to see the couple's wedding photos were ruined.
As soon as the water receded, Walker went straight to work ripping up the carpet and cutting out the walls. All of the furniture was destroyed, he said.
Family and friends from the Police Department stopped by to help. Walker was surprised -- and grateful -- when complete strangers pulled up in their cars and pitched in around the neighborhood.
"If it wasn't for everyone helping me, it would have cost even more and we wouldn't have been done so quickly," he said. "As tragic as it was, everyone came together. It was nice to see all the humanity."
Ultimately, a contractor estimated there was about $40,000 worth of damage.
Since their home was uninhabitable, an anonymous donor from the Fayetteville Police Foundation put the Walkers up in an apartment for three months. Another anonymous donor took his family and another family to a furniture store to replace their damaged items.
Walker said he is appreciative to those who gave to his family and others.
Construction on his home is nearing the end, he said.
Soon, his wife will hang decorations on the wall and noise from his son's video games will fill the home, just like before.
"We're getting back settled in," he said.
Many others, including state and local governments, are still rebuilding.
FEMA extended its deadline for people to seek assistance several times. It ended registration on Jan. 23 with 14,794 people from Cumberland County registered for assistance.
Statewide, 774 families are being housed in hotels because they can't return to the damaged homes or apartments.
In the months following the hurricane, several of the state's lawmakers visited Cumberland County to survey damage.
U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, Governor Roy Cooper and former Governor Pat McCrory had each spent time touring areas hit hard by the storm.
Fayetteville City Manager Doug Hewett told Tillis there was about $9 million worth of damage to infrastructure on a half-dozen roads alone. About 800 homes were damaged.
Major flooding hit several pockets of downtown Fayetteville.
Mark Frederici and James Jarvis, co-owners of All American Automotive on Union Street, said they were dismayed to find their body shop was partly submerged in the wake of the storm.
The men closed up the shop on Friday and went home. They spent the next day watching news reports of flooding in downtown Fayetteville.
They were stunned to see a video of a man kayaking through the businesses district.
Frederici couldn't wait any longer. His wife tried to dissuade him from driving, but he said he had to check on the shop.
The men opened the shop downtown nine years ago and had recently paid off the loans for all of their equipment, he said. They were on track to continue growing the business and hiring additional mechanics.
When Frederici arrived at the shop, he just knew everything was damaged.
"Damn," he said he remembered thinking. "Just coming through the gate you could see the mud. We found some of our stuff down the road. It's amazing what'll float."
The men guessed about seven feet of water had filled the parking lot and their garage. The vehicles in the lot were almost certainly damaged.
They didn't have flood insurance. They called FEMA, but were told they qualified only for a loan.
Fayetteville's Center for Economic Empowerment & Development helped the men secure a small grant to pay for a new vehicle inspection machine.
Frederici guessed the damages and lost business added up to about $80,000.
They had to lay off of three mechanics.
Their excitement at finally paying off their loans had soured. The men knew they were starting over.
"We moped for a day and got to work," Frederici said. "You can't dwell on it. We just had to get in and start dealing."
Family and friends helped the men mop up the mud. They scrubbed tools by hand, one at a time.
Occasionally they still find tools or equipment with mud rings around them.
Disappointed, but not deterred, Javis said the partners were able to reopen their business.
"We said we could quit, but we also said anybody could quit," he said. "It's gonna take a few years, but I hope we're back on track. Don't ever count yourself out."
Staff writer Amanda Dolasinski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3528.
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