In June, Johnston County’s lone shelter for abuse victims moved into a new, larger building.
Harbor Inc. helped 3,200 victims of rape and domestic violence last year, and with a new shelter with twice the room, the aim was to expand that work.
But when floodwaters from Hurricane Matthew swamped the $1.6 million SECU Harbor House, residents and staff were forced to evacuate, and they don’t know when they will be able to return to their safe haven.
Harbor Director Kay Johnson said the parking lot at the shelter began to fill with water on Saturday, the day of the storm. Not long after that, she heard the shelter’s resale shop in Clayton was taking on water.
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Staff and residents at the shelter watched as water filled the yard and water in the parking lot reached the doors of vehicles.
“We were trying to determine what we could do at that point,” Johnson said. “We knew that at that rate water could start to enter the building.”
As they stuffed towels and trash bags under doors, Johnson and her staff set about trying to find refuge for the women and children in their care. They called hotels, but everything was full.
“At that point, we told our residents to get one bag and let’s get ready to evacuate,” Johnson said. “By the time we were ready, water was coming in everywhere.”
From the walls, under the doors, in the electric utility room, the shelter was filling with water.
Johnston County Emergency Services sent the shelter staff and its 14 residents to the First Baptist Church storm shelter briefly, then to the shelter at Smithfield-Selma High School for four days.
“We were able to relocate 10 of our residents to other shelters, including out of the county or even out of the state,” Johnson said.
Harbor had to make other arrangements for the other four residents, she said.
On Sunday, the day after Matthew, staff was able to get back into the new shelter, only to find that nearly a foot of water had filled it in some places. Help arrived Tuesday after the Neuse River had receded enough to allow a restoration crew to reach the shelter.
“They came in and started drying things out, removing wet insulation and cutting Sheetrock,” Johnson said.
When a reporter visited, nearly a foot of drywall had been cut away, and fans created a constant hum in an effort to dry out the building. Some furniture and supplies had been moved into giant storage containers out front or thrown into dumspters, too damaged to salvage. Some furniture remained inside, stacked precariously to keep it dry.
“We moved as much as we could, but some of it was so heavy they just couldn’t move it,” Johnson said.
Johnson isn’t sure of the full extent of needed repairs or how much was lost to flooding.
Harbor is seeking monetary donations and in-kind work to help with repairs. It also will need supplies like toiletries but has no place to store those right now.
“We’re definitely going to have to rely on donations,” Johnson said.
A fundraising walk already was scheduled for Saturday, and Johnson hoped that would help residents and staff get back in their shelter.
“We didn’t have flood insurance,” Johnson said. “We’re applying for FEMA aid, though we’re not sure what we’re eligible for yet.”
At the moment, Johnson takes comfort in knowing that residents escaped the flooding unharmed.
“We got everyone out, and everyone was OK,” she said. “Keeping them safe is what we do, and we can keep doing that until we get this figured out. We just need to do it soon.”
Abbie Bennett: 910-849-2827; @AbbieRBennett
Want to help?
For more information on Harbor or to make a donation, go to www.harborshelter.org.