CURRIE — Over seven months ago, Hurricane Matthew made landfall on the coast of the Carolina’s. After leaving the Wilmington area relatively untouched, the storm stalled and dropped over 15 inches of rain to parts of the state. Some areas, like parts of Pender County, are just now beginning to recover.
Areas like Currie, a small town on the Black River, saw floodwaters rise over 16 feet in the days following Matthew. This flooding displaced dozens of families, leaving them homeless while the county scrambled for aid.
Kristen Johnson, along with Frederick “Fred” Corbett and his mother, Martha Corbett, were some of those affected by the disaster.
“When water came up, it stayed 4 feet high in the house for two weeks. The whole inside of the house was destroyed, even the ceiling,” said Johnson. “The entire house had to be ripped apart.”
Many people, like Johnson and Corbett, were unaware they even resided in a flood plain, having not seen an event this significant in their lifetimes.
Left without a place to live, the people of Currie sought aid, and while it could be found, it came at a high cost.
“They told us, bottom line, that we would be able to borrow money from the government, but we would have to put our land, our home and everything up against it,” Johnson said. “They gave us an amount they would loan us, $50,000, but they wanted our house, and I just couldn’t do it.”
“I’m 46 years old, and they wanted a 30-year loan, you know, you just can’t do it when your home is almost paid for anyway,” Johnson said.
Corbett said that his mother tried to get a loan to repair the home herself, but her income was just too low to be able to get it secured.
Luckily, there were people willing to step up and help. Mike Moser, with the Wilmington Baptist Association, formed a task force of over 750 volunteers from all over the country, to help rebuild, replace, and raise the homes of these families.
“Pender County has been great trying to speed up the FEMA process, but there’s only so much you can do,” Moser said. “So, after a lot of due diligence we decided these people had been out of their houses long enough, it’s time to get it done.”
Moser began fundraising in earnest, working to raise money as rapidly as possible to help these families begin to recover. He teamed up with Pender County Commissioner Jackie Newton, and the two began to brainstorm what could be done to help.
“Canetuck (part of Currie) people are hardy, hardy stock,” Newton said. “They never complained or whined. Mike’s wife, Carolyn Moser, who’s director of one of our county units, drug me over here to show me the work they were doing, and I was just appalled so we got started with it. How can we make this happen?”
After coming up with a plan of attack, they set out to begin healing the community.
Raising the homes
Wednesday morning, these efforts began in earnest. The Baptist Association teamed up with Titan Foundations and Elevation, a Missouri-based construction company specializing in flood mitigation services, Dingey Movers out of Ohio, and a local interfaith team of Presbyterian and Methodist organizations to literally raise the Johnson and Corbett homes up off the ground.
These “raisings,” will get the homes above flood levels, thus allowing homeowners to obtain flood insurance, and seek relief in case of another major flooding event.
Bobby Fischer, President of Titan Foundations and Elevation, said his team was working in Texas when they heard about the disaster in North Carolina. After getting in touch with Moser, they volunteered to come and help with this specialized work, donating much of their resources to the Black River Project.
“I don’t know about Fred, but if these guys hadn’t come through, we wouldn’t have been able to do this,” Johnson said.
According to Moser, once the homes are raised and foundations set, his team of volunteers will come in, and begin restoring these homes, making them livable once again.
“We’re going to have to re-do everything inside. Once that water hit, it soaked up,” Corbett said. “The Baptist men are going to fix it right for her, and build a ramp so she can get in.”
Martha Corbett get’s around with a walker, and the Baptist volunteers plan to help make her home more accessible.
“If we didn’t have any help, we’d never have been able to move back in,” Corbett said.
Before Mike Moser and his group of volunteers came along, Johnson said the community was at a loss for what to do.
“We were just taking it day by day,” Johnson said. “We hadn’t even thought about what to do next, it’s almost been like people have been moving in a state of shock around here.
“Especially for the first couple of months, you felt homeless. You know what homelessness feels like,” she added. “Even though you own your own land, you can’t go on it, you can’t go in it.”
Luckily, that won’t be the case much longer.
The NC Baptist Black River Rebuild has already “tore out” 92 homes, and assisted 20 families with their rebuilds. Eight of those families are already back in their homes, and two more homes are set to be raised.
For more information on the Wilmington Baptist Association, and the Black River Project, visit their website at yourwba.squarespace.com or follow the Black River Project on Facebook. Financial contributions can be addressed to: Wilmington Baptist Association- Black River, 610 S. College Rd, Wilmington NC 28403.