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Families displaced by flood plan holidays from motel rooms

Displaced by flooding from Hurricane Matthew, 14-year-old Kevin Greene lies on a bed Wednesday Nov. 23, 2016 at a Days Inn motel in Goldsboro. His family has been living in the motel for two weeks, unsure when they will be able to return to their home.
Displaced by flooding from Hurricane Matthew, 14-year-old Kevin Greene lies on a bed Wednesday Nov. 23, 2016 at a Days Inn motel in Goldsboro. His family has been living in the motel for two weeks, unsure when they will be able to return to their home. tlong@newsobserver.com

David Greene sat in the motel room he shares with three sons, the table in front of him crowded with prescription medication bottles and food cartons, and talked about spending Thanksgiving there watching football on the television he recovered from his flooded home.

Greene’s daughter, Karen, came in to see her father from the motel room next door that she shares with her mother, Mary – Greene’s wife – and two sisters.

Karen said the family planned to visit relatives Friday and Saturday. But she wondered aloud how the family would spend its Thanksgiving. Greene did stay in to watch football, but most of the family ended up having Thanksgiving at a church.

It was the break from frozen food cooked in the microwave and the takeout the Greenes have dined on since they checked in at the Days Inn about two weeks ago.

Thousands in the state are still scrambling for their footing after Hurricane Matthew roared through and upended their lives. The October hurricane and the record flooding that followed drowned neighborhoods, towns and roads. The state estimated last week than more than 78,700 residential buildings were damaged or destroyed, totaling more than $777 million dollars in losses, according to WTVD.

Gov. Pat McCrory said he intends to call a special session of the legislature in December for hurricane relief. The Federal Emergency Management Agency reported last week that more than $152 million has been approved so far in federal grants, loans and flood insurance payments.

The family has applied for help from FEMA to repair their house, Greene said, but faces living at the Days Inn at least until January.

“My 16th year is the worst year of my life,” said Karen Greene. “I thought being 16 was going to be good. Maybe next year will be better.”

Karen is a member of the chorus and the drumline at Goldsboro High School, but the school activities don’t keep her from thinking about what’s been washed away.

If it weren’t for the flood, “We’d have our house,” she said. “I would have had a job by now.” Motel living means no pets, which is hard for a teenager who loves animals and plans to be a veterinarian and start an animal rescue.

Greene’s son Kevin came in and sat on the bed farthest from the window. The 14-year-old said he spends his time playing on his cellphone. He put in his earbuds.

The family split up to stay with relatives after their neighborhood was evacuated, but decided to reunite at the motel.

“It ain’t good when you’ve got to stay with somebody,” said Greene, 53. He has congestive heart failure. A cane leans on the bed next to his chair.

Fatigue made it hard to keep his job as a custodian, he said, and he stopped working about a year ago. His wife works for an auto parts manufacturer.

Their home in Goldsboro is just two miles away from the motel. They go by every day to pick up mail, and the children ride to school from the bus stop near the house.

The recovery won’t rely on public money alone. McCrory wants members of a recovery committee he appointed to raise money from large corporations, philanthropists and nonprofits.

Many nonprofits have been working the area since the storm hit. North Carolina Baptist Men/Baptists on Mission, has been working with people displaced by the hurricane since it struck. The organization is helping rebuild some homes, a stage of the recovery that executive director Richard Brunson expects Baptists on Mission will work on for two years.

FEMA grants often don’t cover the total cost of rebuilding a house, Brunson said.

Baptists on Mission combines FEMA money homeowners get for materials with building supplies the nonprofit purchases to rebuild homes using volunteer labor, Brunson said. That way, homes can be rebuilt at a fraction of the cost, he said.

“What we do best is providing labor to try to help the ones who need it the most - the ones we know about,” he said.

Baptists on Mission is working with Jamie and Elizabeth Penny to rebuild their flooded home in Seven Springs. The Pennys and their 18-month-old daughter are living in the Days Inn in Goldsboro, in a room overlooking the covered swimming pool.

Richard Weeks, a Baptists on Mission volunteer, is coordinating work on the Pennys’ house.

Elizabeth Penny said last week the family lost nearly everything in the flood, but they’re looking forward to being back home by the end of the year.

Weeks told her her “that their plan was to have us in before Christmas,” she said.

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821, @Lynn_Bonner

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