Hand lives on
"It was terrible. I've never seen that much water before," said Hand, who has lived in the area for 43 years.
Like many on
While Florence survivors are dealing with the added economic ramifications of the coronavirus, the highly contagious disease has just about stopped the efforts of volunteers who were helping to rebuild their homes.
As they struggle through this public health crisis for which staying home is supposed to be the best protection, hurricane survivors are often living in trailers, staring at their half-rebuilt houses just feet away and wondering when the pandemic will end so they can finally finish rebuilding.
"You're talking about a situation where people may be facing extra costs with less money in their pocket and less availability of aid. I really worry that that combination drags out recovery even longer and makes the process even more difficult not just in terms of costs and health risks," said
"It's hard mentally and emotionally. It's hard both on a personal level and a larger community level,"
On a recent sunny day, Hand sat on her porch, the front door ajar. Nearby, boxes of cabinets were piled up in the room that will one day become her kitchen again.
For six months after Florence, Hand and nine family members lived at her mother's three-bedroom house. Then she and her immediate family moved to a
For the first year after the storm, Hand wasn't able to find a contractor. By the time her calls were returned last fall,
Once construction started, Hand used volunteers to try to keep costs low. They painted, helped with flooring and did other work the family couldn't. Two-man volunteer crews from DART-ILM, a rebuilding organization out of
Hand estimates she has spent
"I haven't had to use my savings, but right now we're low," Hand said. "I mean it really has made a big bite in it. And I I don't know how much further I can go with rebuilding, I'll put it that way, I don't know how much further I can go."
"The underlying determination and motivation she has is inspiring to me," Vollmer said. "She's just very focused on the end product."
Hand hopes her home is finished by
But she admits to being stressed by the rebuild and now the pandemic. Not being able to find groceries and basic supplies, she said, actually causes more strain than preparing for a storm. And it's hard to stock up on food while living in a trailer because of the small refrigerator and what Hand calls her "Easy Bake Oven."
"Sometimes you feel like you lost your dog, your best friend. It's a down feeling. ... But I don't want to lose sleep over it because I got somewhere to sleep," Hand said.
Volunteers depart due to coronavirus
Groups like Baptists on Mission,
"We felt like we had to do it even though we didn't want to do it," said
Baptists on Mission was working on about 220 homes at the time, and the Methodists were working on 100 more. Some day workers are still volunteering, but there have been no large crews.
Many homeowners are worried workers won't come back when restrictions are lifted, said
Miller said people have worried that the group isn't coming back. "Well, yes we are," Miller said.
Brunson and Miller expect to resume operations in coming weeks, albeit with smaller crews.
The Methodist disaster teams expect to start re-opening their 15 volunteer centers around
"The thing that scares me to death is that I'll have a volunteer come in from out of town or out of state and get sick here. Or I'll have a volunteer come in and all of a sudden the client gets sick," Miller said.
Baptists on Mission can house up to 900 volunteers across facilities in
When overnight stays begin again, facilities will be limited to 10 people per building, said
"We're going to want to keep making sure the volunteers are safe," Brunson said. "We're housing and feeding them and typically they're in pretty close proximity to lots of other people."
'Then the virus hit'
In early March, Calvert and his father had finished tearing out 92 bags of insulation and were starting to rebuild the floor when an Amish team arrived, the first rebuilding help the family has had. That crew replaced the floor and insulation in six hours, later installing sheet rock throughout the house.
"I was finally starting to get my hopes up," Pepper said. "And then the virus hit."
The volunteers left on
"If they had just been able to get us the material, we could have gotten the house finished while we were stuck at home," Pepper said. "At least that way the kids would have been in a nice clean house instead of a little tiny camper."
Now, the family doesn't know when they will get the materials to rebuild the house or if they will have help again. That uncertainty weighs heavy on survivors, said
"You have no control over (the pandemic). You don't know when it's going to end," Green said. "At this point, (families) have no idea if someone's coming to help them in a month or a year. The stress is pretty overwhelming."
The family's house stands well above the rest of their 1.97-acre plot. Two campers are parked alongside it, with Pepper and Calvert's family living in one, Calvert's father in another. Calvert's sister and her adult children live in a small building tucked into the property's corner. Everyone bathes in an outdoor shower Calvert built, water warmed by a five-gallon water heater that is about the size of a construction bucket.
A pair of pigs run around a pen with some goats. Calvert was planning a celebratory pig roast for when rebuilding was finished. But now, he said, "I'm thinking those hams are looking mighty tasty."
Inside, the house is all plywood floors and unpainted sheet rock. A bedroom on the end closest to the campers has been converted into a temporary play space, allowing the three boys -- 11 years old, 3 years old and 18 months -- some room to roam.
"We got tired of tripping over their toys," Calvert said.
Pepper is a stay-at-home mom, homeschooling Jadon, 11, and taking care of the two younger boys. Jadon hasn't listened well lately, and Pepper thinks it's probably because he's been unable to visit friends or go to the playground.
Before Florence, Calvert was working at the
Earlier this year, a contractor working on the house earlier this year asked the younger Calvert if he knew how to build a platform holding up an air conditioner. Calvert did and asked the contractor if he could do the same work at other houses.
The contractor agreed, and Calvert started shortly before the coronavirus hit. He's built one platform in the past month.
"I was finally starting to get a little hope," Pepper said. "I was like, 'Oh, you're starting to make money regularly,' and then all of a sudden, bam! Every time we get up, it comes down. My friend says you should write a book, you've been up and down and up and down like a roller coaster."
"It isn't a roller coaster. This is a yo-yo," Calvert said.
And Calvert is eyeing this year's hurricane forecast warily. He's worried about another storm, particularly with his family living in a leaky camper.
"If it ruins what we've already done inside the house, I think the mentality is going to be just cutting my loss and starting over from scratch," Calvert said. "I'll probably be my dad's age before we can afford to do something like this again."
When storms come through
"A lot of people are really struggling," Witkowski said. "We all thought (stay-at-home) was going to be two weeks, and everyone was mentally OK with two weeks. Now, it's looking like it's a more uncertain future. Just the fact that it's going to be a new normal for an unknown amount of time is really hitting a lot of people."
Vollmer is also worried about her clients.
Many residents in the Whitestocking area, where Hand lives, have been there for decades and weathered several storms. It is common to find people rebuilding from Florence who did the same thing after 1999's Hurricane Floyd. Community members who would often gather to help with recovery now can't because of COVID-19, Vollmer said.
"It's a big community gathering to help people recover from (flooding) and that's part of the plan that's in place," Vollmer said. "When this coronavirus came and you can't be around each other, that puts stress on your support system. It changes things drastically."
Vollmer wants emergency measures put into place to help the Florence victims return to their houses or to finish repairs. One of Vollmer's clients,
The home's kitchen is mostly finished, as is a bedroom and the living room. But two bedrooms remain unfinished, and tufts of pink insulation remain hanging from the unfinished ceiling in parts of the house. Outside, tarps drape the roof, and one of the boards holding them down has curved upward, nails barely clinging to the roof.
"She's tarped well, but dear goodness, she needs that roof," Vollmer said.
Hill hoped to finish rebuilding by
"That's a product of life, what can I say?" Hill said.
Hill is thankful for what she does have, though, a lesson she says she learned while throwing away a trash bag of soggy shoes and piles of pocketbooks after Florence.
"I don't value stuff like I used to," Hill said. "A lot of things I had, I didn't really need. So it has taught me to value what I have because one day it'll be gone."
Now, Hill spends her days planting and caring for hostas and geraniums and verbenas without worrying that someone from
"A lot of times things happen that we don't understand, but I feel like some good is going to come out of this -- not only for me but for other people, too," Hill said. "And that's what I'm thinking over: What is the good that's going to come of this?"
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