Devastation pockets are legacy of Bonnie

BY SUSAN KIM | NORTH CAROLINA | September 2, 1998


NORTH CAROLINA (September 2, 1998) -- Although many disaster officials and residents expressed relief that Hurricane Bonnie blew through with less damage than expected, the storm left hidden pockets of devastation throughout rural North Carolina and in remote areas of Virginia's Tidewater area as well.

Hundreds of residents in North Carolina's rural inland counties -- particularly Beaufort, Bladen, Brunswick, Carteret and Columbus -- as well as those in more remote communities outside of Virginia Beach and Norfolk, VA are struggling with flooded homes, contaminated wells and water supplies, and devastated crops. Many are not only uninsured but also difficult to locate. State emergency management teams and FEMA officials are still searching remote areas with plans to address needs.

In a three-day crawl up the North Carolina and Virginia coastline, Hurricane Bonnie caused an estimated $1 to $2 billion worth of damage. Although the storm caused far less damage than Hurricane Fran, it hung over North Carolina for more than 36 hours in an unusually wide berth that caused flooding as far as 100 miles inland.

Many inland North Carolina towns -- Calabash, Elizabethtown, White Lake, Swansboro -- report 150 to 200 homes suffered severe damage. Brunswick County suffered $20 million in damages, including a lost roof on the county hospital. State disaster officials estimate $50 million worth of damage within a 100-mile radius of Wilmington, NC. Property damage estimates have reached $13.3 million in Virginia Beach and $2 million in Norfolk, VA.

Disaster response and faith-based organizations such as the Salvation Army, Adventist Community Services, Lutheran Disaster Response, North Carolina Interfaith Disaster Response, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Committee on Relief, Church World Service, North Carolina Baptist Men's Association, Families In Crisis, American Red Cross and, in the Tidewater area, the Cornerstone Community Center, are providing immediate help and planning long-term recovery efforts as well.

Right now the challenge is locating those in need, said Shirlowe Powell, regional team captain of the North Carolina Baptist Men's Association. The organization supplied food, water, and ice at churches in Brunswick County, NC and also prepared food for Red Cross mobile food units that made deliveries to more than 1,500 people, many in remote areas up to 60 miles away.

"When people come to eat at the church, they might say they've heard about an area that got hit hard, a remote area in need," he said. "Sometimes we don't know whether it's a rumor or not, but we send people to check it out and deliver food. Nine times out of ten, it's not a rumor and there are people who really need help," said Powell.

Locating the owners of damaged vacation homes is also a challenge, said Marilyn Inman, pastor's assistant at the Lighthouse Mission Church in Brunswick County. "On the house next door to me, the middle portion of the roof is gone, and a back wall is laying in my yard," she said. "But the owners bought the house only three months ago. They've only been back once since."

Wilmington resident Laura Drury and her husband spent a year building a 25-foot plywood-and-epoxy construction sailboat -- their home until Hurricane Bonnie slammed it against the dock, ripping off the bow and one mast, pulling apart the transom, and swamping the cabin. "When I saw it, I just started crying," Drury said.

Drury said estimates show that it will cost $20,000 and take at least a month to repair the boat. "Fortunately we have insurance coverage, but in the meantime, it's difficult playing gypsy," she said. "We can't afford to stay in a hotel for too long. Right now we're staying with friends."

The Lutheran Brotherhood Disaster Fund is providing financial assistance to people like the Drurys who can't meet the cost of temporary housing while their homes are repaired.

Many residents reflected that their preparedness and response to Hurricane Bonnie has been better because of lessons learned during Hurricane Fran. Deb Bowen, a clinical social worker at the Catholic Social Ministries in Wilmington, NC, said that disaster response teams -- from human service agencies to government agencies to faith-based organizations -- were better prepared this time around. "Since Hurricane Fran, I have given more than 100 disaster preparedness lectures to various groups in southeastern North Carolina," she said. "We handled this storm better."

Pastor John Misenheimer said that, within 24 hours after the storm, Wilmington's Lutheran pastors met with Lutheran Disaster Response to plan how to address needs. "We have applications for funds -- $500 per family -- available, and each pastor was given $300 in cash to distribute to church members who had smaller but still crucial needs like replacing lost tools, or arranging transportation to work," he said.

In Columbus County, which has many flooded inland areas, United Methodist pastors also met to assess damage and plan for long-term assistance. Pastor Bob Balmun from Grace United Methodist Church said that churches were working with the county to loan generators to those still without power. "Next we're planning to send out work teams to help rural residents repair their homes," he said.

Posted September 2, 1998


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