When 89-year-old William Cunniff returned to his flood-damaged home in North Carolina, he found mold climbing the walls of every room, the remains of Hurricane Florence. Cunniff had evacuated and stayed out of the state with relatives until it was safe to return.
Photo by Laura Sikes
North Carolina Baptists on Mission volunteer Chuck Hale of Englewood Baptist Church in Rocky Mount shows William Cunniff, 89, his old Marine Corps uniform that was soaked by floodwaters from Hurricane Florence. Hale and seven other volunteers helped Cunniff sort through items to salvage amid tear-out of his flood-damaged home of 20 years. "It's his stuff and you have to respect that," Hale said. "I told him I am here to help you."
The widower and U.S. Marine Corps veteran found that his home of 20 years in New Bern’s Fairfield Harbour community had taken on more than a foot of floodwater just as many other homes had in his neighborhood. Cunniff is staying with his next-door neighbor whose garage took on less than a foot of water.
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers are helping Cunniff and many other survivors return to their homes and restore their lives. The job is a dirty one as volunteers tear out sheetrock, pull up flooring and often help owners sort through flood-damaged items.
Many homeowners in the area lost almost all the contents of their homes. Damaged furniture, appliances and personal effects lay in piles in front of homes along street after street.
North Carolina Baptists On Mission have been responding since Hurricane Florence hit in September, operating out of Temple Baptist Church in New Bern. The site is one of several posts serving in the state in hard-hit areas along the coast from Wilmington and west to Lumberton. Hundreds of SBDR volunteers from multiple states have come to help.
SBDR volunteers have served 1.1 million meals to Hurricane Florence survivors. They have cleared downed trees and debris from more than 900 yards and completed more than 170 flood cleanup jobs in North and South Carolina.
Nearly 100 people have professed faith in Christ since SBDR volunteers began ministering to local communities.
Photo by Laura Sikes
Jenna Hoffman (left) and Marissa Carraway, two employees from East Carolina University, sweep after tearing up flooring at William Cunniff’s flood-damaged home in New Bern, N.C. They worked alongside a Southern Baptist Disaster Relief team for the day with two other volunteers from their university to help Cunniff, a Marine veteran, begin to restore his home.
New Bern site command leader Jimmy Lawrence of First Baptist Church in Mayodan said the storm’s damage across North Carolina has been devastating.
“The huge land mass affected and the potential for homelessness here may have an impact like nothing we’ve dealt with in North Carolina,” Lawrence said.
Recovery operations volunteer Ed Coltrane of Colonial Baptist Church in Trinity, N.C., said the site has taken 742 jobs with 340 completed. They are still taking requests every day, with about 80 percent of the work asked for being mud-out and chainsaw work.
An eight-member team worked two days to help Cunniff with his home. They ripped up flooring and emptied rooms full of damaged furniture.
North Carolina Baptist Men volunteer Chuck Hale of Englewood Baptist Church in Rocky Mount, helped Cunniff find items that could be salvaged.
“It’s his stuff and you have to respect that,” Hale said. “I told him, ‘I am here to help you.’”
Cunniff said he was appreciative of the volunteers’ work.
“I couldn’t have found a better group of people. It’s just like friends doing things for one another. That’s the Christian attitude,” he said.
Another volunteer group worked for six days on a complete tear out of the first floor and basement of a flood-damaged home in Trenton, N.C.
Photo by Laura Sikes
Tyler Newman and Ken Cruz of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. carry out damaged plywood from a flood-damaged home in Trenton, N.C. They worked for six days on a complete tear-out with four other members from their church alongside volunteers from North Carolina.
The home of a Temple Baptist Church member took on three to four feet of floodwater when the Trent River overflowed its banks.
Six volunteers from Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., worked alongside four volunteers from North Carolina.
Crystal Rose Alford of Saddleback Church said what she cherishes about serving is getting to interact with the homeowners.
“Our prayer and our hope is to get to love on the homeowner,” Alford said. “Pieces of our hearts are left here in the home that we have worked on. It’s an indelible mark.”
Team leader Anthony Cooper of Wilson, N.C., said the volunteers appreciate the New Bern community.
“We’ve been touched by a lot of the people here,” Cooper said.
Senior pastor Jim Pennington and associate pastor Bennett Holloway of Temple Baptist Church thanked the volunteers for all their hard work for the community during a dinner that the church gave the volunteers.
“Seeing what you guys do, words cannot express the appreciation we have for you,” Holloway said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Laura Sikes is a freelance writer for the North American Mission Board. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)