HARKERS ISLAND — Hurricane Florence may have knocked them down, but Down East residents proved they will get back up again with the love and support of their community.
That was the theme of Tuesday night’s community discussion “Remembering Florence and Now Dorian” at the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center.
“I think everybody here in this room knows the subject pretty well….Florence,” said museum Executive Director Karen Amspacher as she addressed the crowd. “We all lost a lot … We’ve lost a lot of things in our world. People say, ‘well, they’re just things,’ but it’s a different story when those things are your things and are a part of your life… they are more than things, they are who you are.”
She mentioned this month’s Hurricane Dorian and the fear that the storm could potentially wipe away all of the hard work of the last year.
“We were blessed, but Ocracoke wasn’t,” she said. “The outpouring of love and concern for Ocracoke, and also for Cedar Island and Buxton and Hatteras, has been quite amazing. It really has. We are at our best when we are in trouble it seems.”
The discussion was held a few days after the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Florence, which hit as a Category 1 storm in September 2018 and caused widespread damage throughout the county.
Those who attended the community gathering reminisced on the storm, the damage it caused and how they prepared for Hurricane Dorian based on the knowledge gained from experiencing Florence.
Duke University Marine Lab students were onsite Tuesday displaying some of the work they did with area students shortly after Florence.
The DUML students asked elementary and middle school students what they would say to the storm. Students then wrote down their ideas and drew pictures over a span of time, including at December’s Waterfowl Weekend, held at the museum.
The end result was a collage that resembled the hurricane’s eye.
“The idea was to give them a space to express themselves,” said Dr. Liz DeMattia, a scientist at the marine lab who leads the community science initiative.
The children weren’t the only ones who needed to express themselves and remember the storm’s impact.
Emma Rose Guthrie of Harkers Island brought along pictures of her home’s damage to share with the crowd.
Ms. Guthrie stayed at her home during the storm, just like she has for every other storm. Before the weather got too bad, she was able to run across the street to check on her neighbors, but as the storm increased, she decided to go to a family member’s brick home.
When she came back a few days later after the rain stopped, she discovered her house was destroyed.
“I think a tornado hit the house,” she said. “My whole roof had collapsed. I lost everything and had no insurance. It’s bad to know you can’t go in your own house and made a cup of coffee or brush your teeth.”
Luckily, Ms. Guthrie has family members close by. People donated money and items to help get her back on her feet.
“When they heard I lost my house, those children came through for me,” she said.
While her home was being repaired, Ms. Guthrie stayed in a camper. She was there for four months.
“It was small, but I kind of enjoyed it,” she said. “But boy did I want to get back home.”
Ms. Guthrie said Hurricane Dorian had little impact on her home, causing only minor damage to her fence.
When asked what she learned from Hurricane Florence, she said the storm taught her to count her blessings.
“I get down on my knees every day and count my blessings,” she said.
Ms. Guthrie said she will still stay at her home on the island during future storms.
“I will be right there until God calls me home,” she said.
Others got to share their storm experiences, many of which were recorded for the museum’s “Harm’s Way” exhibit, a project in partnership with N.C. Sea Grant, Duke University, N.C. News Lab, the N.C. Community Foundation and all of the Down East communities. It can be found online at harmswaystormstories.com
Emily Melvin, a Duke student, was one of those conducting interviews and asking people what was important to remember.
“We want to give people an opportunity to talk about their experiences,” she said.
John and Celia Bane bought a house and moved to Harkers Island 31 days before the storm was projected to hit the area. As Florence moved closer to North Carolina, the intensity increased and the Banes decided to go back to Columbia, S.C., to ride it out.
“The major thing I remembered from that experience is I think I worried a lot more down there than I would have if I’d been here,” Mr. Bane said. “Once we got down there it was two weeks before we could get back. That made it worse. We really wanted to get back and pitch in with the recovery effort.”
Ms. Bane agreed.
“We knew we had damage because neighbors had taken pictures through the windows, but nobody had a key. We really didn’t know how bad it was, so the anxiety was just incredible, before the storm and after,” she said. “People couldn’t understand why we didn’t want to go and party and go out to eat and go to events. We were just totally shut down from the anxiety.”
As far as damage goes, the couple had some, but they learned what they needed to do for the next storm.
“Florence was good in that it gave us a sense of what we needed to do to harden our property as much as feasible,” Mr. Bane said. “We feel like our house is about as safe as it can practically be made.”
The couple added a metal roof and storm shutters and purchased a generator. The Banes were impressed with the way the community rallied together after Florence, as well.
“I think it’s great to have a community to be a part of after something like that,” Mr. Bane said. “When it hits places where people are sort of a stranger from everyone else, I think it would be a lot harder.”
Ms. Bane said the most interesting thing was how people responded.
“I grew up in a small town, but it wasn’t anything like this. This is like a mountain community. It’s been historically cut off and they still have a strong sense of place,” she said. “Our friends in Columbia didn’t understand why people who had lost everything wouldn’t just move somewhere else, and I said, ‘You don’t understand. They would rather die in a storm than move off the land that has been in their family for three generations. Whatever they put on it, that’s home. If they have to live in a tent, that’s home. This is home. They’re not going anywhere no matter what happens.”
“It’s really nice to feel a part of something with that kind of roots. In today’s world it’s so unusual to have places like that. It’s such a blessing,” she continued.
As well as people’s homes, many businesses on the island were also destroyed, including the museum.
When the storm hit, water enter the building from above. The roof leaked and caused significant mold growth.
In October 2018, crews started working on gutting the museum and removing artifacts so they would not be damaged. The facility has been closed to the public, but officials maintain a store in Morehead City, where events and activities take place.
Through a fundraising campaign and insurance, the museum was able to purchase a metal roof. Construction is still ongoing, and officials hope to be back in the museum around April.
After a short dinner, those in attendance Tuesday night were able to listen to a panel of community members discuss how they prepared for Hurricane Florence, the days following the storm and how they did things differently as Hurricane Dorian approached.
The panel consisted of Jason Willis with the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Cedar Island ferry terminal and volunteer chief with the Cedar Island Fire Department, Kathryn Chadwick, a County Board of Education member and owner of Chadwick Tire and Harkers Island RV Resort, Joella Morris, an East Carteret High School teacher and oyster and shellfish farmer, Jessica Emory, principal of Beaufort Middle School, and Mike Willis, captain of the Harkers Island Fire Department.
Tabbie Nance, with the Carteret County Schools, hosted the panel.
Each panelist discussed their different jobs and how the hurricane impacted the schools and the community, as well as how things can be done differently in the future to better help the community.
Contact Megan Soult at 252-726-7081, ext. 228; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or follow on Twitter @meganCCNT.