Commentary

Saunders: Pamlico County still recovering from floods

May 14, 2012 

  • How to help If you want to be a blessing to a forgotten North Carolina community that is still in need, you can contribute to Eight Days of Hope by sending a check to P.O. Box 3208 Tupelo, MS 38803, online at www.8daysofhope.com or by texting EDOH to 20222 ($10).

The good news is that the waters around Pamlico County have receded after the flood last year.

The bad news is so has outside interest.

“We don’t know why, but support has dried up,” Dawn Gibson told me last week.

As is their wont, some people seem to be blaming the victims – either because they themselves don’t want to help or because they figure residents should have had adequate insurance or they think they should have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps by now.

That’s impossible when your boots have been washed away or are filled with mold.

“A lot of people think ‘You should’ve had your life back together within a couple of months’” of Hurricane Irene, Gibson said, trying to explain why interest and contributions from other residents and corporations have waned. “It’s been so many months ago, but people just don’t understand how pressing the issues are. ... See, some of the houses from the outside look fine, but inside they’re gutted.”

She told of a friend who visited a family living in just such a house. The outside was impeccable, but, she said “the smell of mold was so strong she couldn’t go inside.” Yet, she said, the family was still living there.

As for insurance, she said, many residents with whom she spoke are in the same boat as her family, whose home suffered $29,000 in damage. “We had insurance, but what we received from FEMA and flood insurance was only $15,000.”

A lot of county residents had let their flood insurance lapse because of a bad economy or were lulled into a false sense of security, she said, by – ironically – previous devastating floods that hit in 1999 and 2003. “People thought that we’d seen two really, really bad floods and just didn’t think we’d see another ‘100-year flood’ so soon, I thought that myself.”

Nonprofit help

Gibson, chairwoman of the Pamlico County disaster recovery coalition, was preparing for a town hall meeting when I spoke with her. She was going, she said, to try to allay fears of more than 200 homeowners. “They’re worried that their homes won’t be fixed because they know fundraising isn’t going well.”

All of them will be repaired if Steve Tybor III, his dad and the nonprofit organization they founded have anything to do with it.

The Tybors founded Eight Days of Hope after Hurricane Katrina devastated parts of the South in 1999. Tybor had just moved to Mississippi and his father was still living in Buffalo, N.Y. “My dad wanted to come down and help his son. Then, we thought we’d just take two or three people down to help other people rebuild their homes and hopefully rebuild their lives.”

They started telling friends, who told other friends, he said. On that first trip, he said, “684 people showed up.”

The volunteers consisted of roofers, contractors, electricians, painters and remodelers. “Then you had people like me who are not particularly gifted” who do the grunt work that frees skilled tradesmen to do their thing.

The group’s good deeds begat even more good deeds. “Next thing you know,” Tybor said, “we have over 10,000 people on eight trips” across the nation. This edition is called Eight Days of Hope IX.

He expects between 1,500 and 1,800 people from 41 states to descend upon Pamlico County by planes, trains and automobiles from May 26 through June 2. That’s eight days, hence the group’s name.

‘Never had that happen’

Gibson said her coalition has raised about $35,000 from residents and businesses and about $10,000 from local churches. They need about $150,000 more, she said, noting, “It’s really going to be a hurt for our community with all of those volunteers here if we can’t afford the building supplies and material.”

“We’ve never had that happen,” Tybor said. “We always coordinate with local organizations” to ensure that everything they need is in place, including people who need help most. It’s going to be all-the-way live. We don’t charge for anything,” he said, noting that EDOH has no overhead.

“I think that’s why God has really blessed us,” he said. “Not that he hasn’t blessed other groups, but he has really blessed us.”

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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