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Two years later, NC families reflect

BY SUSAN KIM | TARBORO, NC | September 18, 2001

"I don't know why this flood happened. But I have acquired an inner peace with how I feel about others. It brought people of different ages and different races together."

—Doris Williams

TARBORO, NC (Sept. 18, 2001) -- On Sept. 16 two years ago, Doris Williams evacuated her Princeville home at 3 a.m. as floodwaters overtook it.

Williams -- along with thousands of others in eastern North Carolina -- bore the brunt of Hurricane Floyd, a Category 4 storm that would kill more than 40 people, destroy tens of thousands of homes, and cause $1 billion in losses.

In the middle of the night two years ago, all Williams could think about was leaving Princeville and finding someplace safe to go. She tried to get to her son's house in Rocky Mount but that town was already submerged.

She spent the night in her car parked in a Burger King parking lot located on a rise in the road. "I was completely exhausted by then. I was tired and hungry," Williams remembers.

When the waters receded, she was still in shock. "I thought I could just go back home."

But she couldn't. And, two years later, she still can't. Williams is currently renting a house in Tarboro, still waiting to move back in. It will be soon, she hopes. "The closet doors are getting put on, and then it just has to be inspected."

For Williams, who is retired and disabled by severe arthritis, it has been a two-year journey that has changed the way she thinks about humankind.

She had neither the physical strength nor the money to rebuild her home. Through word-of-mouth, Williams found help via volunteers from faith-based disaster response groups.

Volunteer crews from virtually every mainstream denomination have been -- and still are -- working in North Carolina to help flood survivors. Whatever their denomination, Williams said it was folks working through churches who brought her back from the flood.

"The United Methodists did so much for both my physical and mental state."

And I thank the Lord for the Mennonites, who did so much work on my home. My husband and I don't have much but we sacrificed and took those Mennonites out to lunch at McDonald's so we could all be together and share a lot of love."

The financial assistance Williams received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state just couldn't stretch far enough to rebuild her home, especially after she was ripped off by fraudulent contractors who promised repair work then left town with her money.

"There were just a lot of bad people around at that time," she said.

But the faith-based disaster response groups changed her mind about her fellow human beings. Volunteer crews rebuilt her home, offered financial support, found furniture and appliances, and coordinated community gatherings that boosted people's spirits.

Williams doesn't remember their names, but she remembers volunteers from Dallas, TX, from Canada, from Michigan, from Washington state. She remembers college students and a group of 15-year-olds working during their spring break. She remembers a pastor who played his guitar and sang songs in the evenings.

"I didn't know there were so many good people in the world," she said. "I don't know why this flood happened. But I have acquired an inner peace with how I feel about others. It brought people of different ages and different races together."

"We don't really know who our brothers and sisters are but the Lord has a way of bringing people together."

Two years later, that feeling of unity still lingers, Williams said. In July, United Methodist churches in North Carolina sponsored a fellowship program and worship service at the community center in Princeville. "The program was dedicated to all those persons in eastern North Carolina that withstood the ravages of the flood," said Williams. "I was so moved I just cried."

Receiving help transformed some flood survivors into volunteers themselves. Mary Bullock, now back in her once-ruined home in Tarboro, doesn't want to tell her flood story. It is still too painful, she says, especially because her husband died 11 months before her Hurricane Floyd took her house.

"Let's just say it was an experience I would not wish to go through again," she said. But Bullock eagerly tells how the work of volunteers changed her views on helping others. "Maybe it's hard to believe but they made me see the good things about the flood."

Now Bullock considers herself a volunteer. She's not part of a formal group, but she volunteers for any neighbor in need. "I run errands for people, that sort of thing. Little things that make a difference."

Some flood survivors remember those 'little things' the most. "You know what I remember? All the words of consolation from friends and from churches," said Lena Boddie, a Tarboro resident who lost everything. "That sounds like a little something but those words are still there."

Two years after the flood, there is still pain. Lost family members, lifetime neighbors separated because some people gave up on rebuilding and moved away, and precious lost possessions that can never be replaced.

But as time moves on, there are good memories, too, said Boddie. "I'll never get over the flood, but it gets better with time."


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