Feature: Matthew’s Aftermath

Hurricane Matthew affected us all. In the wake of the powerful storm, we are still rebuilding our communities, our cities, our businesses and our homes. It will take time, but our friendships and our families are strong. Here is a small collection of memories—quotes from the community— on what people experienced and how they are recovering from the aftermath.

Channing Walker, CEO of Walker Florez Consulting Group, is in partnership with the Greater Fayetteville Chamber working to help local businesses with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) applications for grants. One thing he noted—even during the storm—was this: “When our residents needed assistance, the City came together. Fayetteville really stepped up to the plate. That was important to see—that resiliency that Fayetteville has.”

Photographer Matthew Wonderly was quick to make it downtown to document the scene. He went down the day after Hurricane Matthew hit and called the scene “devastating.” “When I got downtown Fayetteville, it was a lot worse than I thought. As a photographer I thought I needed to be down there documenting the damage. You can talk about the damage as much as you want, but to see images of the devastation, it can have a greater impact.”

The drive that generally took about thirty minutes took an hour and a half, since most roads were blocked off. He first noticed the FEMA trucks driving around and only noticed a handful of other people downtown. “I’d never seen downtown that empty,” he said. “It was like a ghost town.” The most surprising thing to him was to not see the fountain. “It was completely gone. There was no evidence of it in Linear Park.”

He spent about two hours documenting the damage, an important thing to do, he felt, as a photographer. “I thought I needed to be down there to document it. People will want to look back and see what happened.”

Jean Moore of The Moore Building on Williams Street downtown was grateful not to have any carpet down, grateful for the building’s concrete walls and the exterior brick walls. Despite still having to pull
sheet rock and insulation out from four feet up, throw out all of their furniture and losing both of her children’s folders on their military careers to the flood waters (“They’re just gone…”), she said, “We are lucky, as I’ve said over 10,000 times.” She is so gracious to the “number of people who have hopped up and helped” and also says that her husband has been phenomenal throughout it all. “I’ve learned a lot about myself, my husband and my neighbors,” she said.

As for the strange choreography she has witnessed throughout the whole process of how things have
come together, “It’s been like a ballet.” Looking forward, she says, “We’ve got a ways to go, but I’m
thinking we’ll be functional.” When Willie Moore, a Fayetteville resident and handyman, pointed to the area behind his home on Cool Spring Street where his backyard used to be and a garden he had planted once stood, he said, spreading his hand—“it was like an ocean. Water was coming through the woods.”

As we walked with him around his home, he pointed to how high the water level rose and to the crawl space where the water got in under his house at the back. “It looked like a pond. I’ve been here for 75 years and I’ve never seen anything like this before. It could have been worse. It was devastating, but it happened. Me? I’m glad I got my life and I can sit back and talk about it now.”

Chris Foster of Winterlochen Road said he was finishing up work at his home when he saw something out of the corner of his eye. It was his garbage can from the kitchen floating to him. That was sometime between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday October 8. “When I looked outside, water was gushing in, and I realized I had a problem. You don’t think about it. You hear the rain, but you don’t think it’s going to come into your house. I lost power shortly before I was rescued by the Urban Search and Rescue Team. They tied ropes to trees so we could get through the rushing water.”

In looking back, Chris says that in a situation like that all you have is shock. “There is very little you can control in this situation. Moving forward in a positive manner is the only alternative. I’m just taking it day by day.”

According to Ruthie Dent, Vice President of Marketing and Special Events at Fayetteville Area Habitat for Humanity said that of Habitat’s 154 homes, 95 were affected with 66 being in desperate need. Homes were swallowed in about five feet of water, which led to emergency evacuations and the displacement of over 60 families. Ruthie said, “As soon as we heard the Old Wilmington Road area was hit as hard as it was, we were out there doing what we could.”

She explained that contractors were helping homeowners assess damage and teams of volunteers were gutting houses and removing anything that had been in touch with water so mold would not begin to grow. Ruthie said the mood is still very hopeful in the community.

“Everyone has been part of the team, ready to go and willing to serve. We are going to restore
hope to our families. Their homes will be restored. It’s not going to be today or tomorrow
or next week, but it will happen.”

Latosha Quick, a resident in Habitat Village said for her the whole experience was very scary. In a matter of hours, her neighborhood was completely washed out. “It’s like something you see on TV, but you never think it would really happen to you.”

Trash cans moved about freely in the strong current. Her biggest concern at the time was caring for her mother and the three children she was watching. Since no one could swim, she said “my biggest fear
was that no one would make it, but we all did.”

They had to brave the strong current and the cold murky water which was up to their chins. Children escaped on their backs and two men came to help them.

“We only had to go a few feet, but in that water, it felt like miles.” Latosha is quick to be grateful. “I know we lost our house and everything is gone, but we are alive. It could be worse. Look at Lumberton. Look at Haiti. We could be burying one of our family members. I am so thankful that no matter what happened, we have our lives.”

Danielle McLean, Legal & Compliance Officer of the Lumbee Tribe in North Carolina, said, “People have lost everything. They’ve lost homes, businesses…everything has been washed away or destroyed. Right
now, we are providing basic human needs like food and water and blankets. Right now everyone is going into recovery mode.”

Jenny Bell, a Communications team member at the Fayetteville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau said that she worked hard to give out accurate information to visitors and local citizens; many events were cancelled or re-scheduled. “We were fielding so many calls about the re-routing on I-95, too. We were grateful when it re-opened. People kept coming in saying, ‘I’m on a detour and I don’t even know where I’m going.’”

As she moves on with her day-to-day life after the storm, Jenny said, “I think I’m mindful of people who work behind the scenes, that do so much that we will never even know about—who are rebuilding the city, like trash pick-up and the mail men and women who are still getting mail to people.”

With three sides of Cape Fear Botanical Garden bordered by the waters of Cape Fear River and the Cross Creek, the aftermath of the hurricane left two-thirds of the property flooded. Trails were washed away, numerous trees were up-rooted and garden beds were submerged in muddy waters. Meg Suraci, Director of Marketing at the Cape Fear Botanical Garden, said, “While a recovery plan is underway, access is limited to these area. Only time will tell the full extent of the damage.” The Garden expressed gratitude for the beautiful days of weather following the storm which gave their staff and volunteers
time to clear away storm debris and help get the doors ready to open so children could spend some time outdoors again.

When local photographer Raul R Rubiera noticed the rain created a little river next to his home that ate away at the ground under the foundation, he knew he had to work quickly to divert the water back. But
in the morning, he saw the foundation began to crack. He called Bill Dudley to help him and for three days, Bill and his son, Wheeler, Raul and his son worked diligently. “It doesn’t surprise me, people helping each other.”

When Raul had a tree fall on his driveway, neighbors were already at work helping to cut the tree out of the way. They were just driving around and seeing who needed help. “That was happening all
over Fayetteville,” Raul said. “Many people—even strangers—have come to help me during and after Hurricane Matthew. The people of Fayetteville are very generous about helping. It makes you feel lucky to be surrounded by good people, people that care enough about others just to go out and help and not wait to be asked.”

What we have witnessed in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew has been a true testimony to the endurance of the human spirit. Natural disasters can bring out the best in people. What became a
violent storm capable of damage and destruction has become a catalyst of bringing a tight-knit community even closer together.

Join the conversation and help get involved. Look for ways to get involved in post-hurricane clean up. There are a variety of organizations and missions that are currently seeking volunteers, supplies and
other items.