Two months after Hurricane Irene pounded the East Coast, residents on North Carolina’s Outer Banks are still working hard to get life back to normal.
“The rebuilding process will speed up now that the highway is open. But it’s not an overnight thing,” said Russ Howard, pastor of Cape Hatteras Baptist Church.
Cape Hatteras was spared the worst of the damage, as the church sits on a hill in one of the highest areas along the coast, but neighborhoods around the church are trying to recover.
“When the storm came, it sat on us for so long. We watched the water being sucked out of the sound,” Howard said. “There was no water in the sound. It was completely bone dry; you could tell for miles. I knew that water would come back with a fury.”
When the winds shifted the water did indeed come back, causing a major flood surge. Some homes in the area have remained vacant since the hurricane.
Howard and members of Cape Hatteras are trying to help people still suffering from the flood damage.
“Everything that the water came into contact with was no good – the carpet and drywall. Insulation had to be treated for mold. Some people literally lost everything,” Howard said. “The septic systems also overflowed. Muck was everywhere.”
Howard said many people in the area work in service related businesses and do not earn a lot of money. With businesses being closed for so long, and some still closed, it’s hard for people to get back on their feet.
“The hurricane crushed the economy,” he said. “Most of the people here live paycheck to paycheck.”
Even businesses that remained open saw few tourists after the hurricane. N.C. Highway 12, the main road that services the Outer Banks, was closed for nearly seven weeks. While the road was closed the only way in and out of Hatteras Island was the ferry, and with so many people needing to ride, leaving the island was not easy.
Howard left home one day at 6:30 a.m. to take a neighbor to a doctor’s appointment in Nags Head. A trip that by car would usually take less than two hours took all day. Howard arrived home that night about 9:30.
“There was great rejoicing when the road opened,” he said.
Just being available is what has made the difference in the lives of the people living along the Outer Banks, whether cleaning out houses, passing out gift cards for local grocery and hardware stores, helping people find places to stay and working with landlords, or just talking and praying with people.
One couple Howard met lost almost everything they had due to water damage. “I just talked to him and prayed with him, and gave him a gift card. He broke down and started crying over something that simple. He was so grateful,” Howard said.
When someone donated money for coffee pots, Howard bought every one left in the hardware store and gave them to people in need. Six cases of bug spray barely made it out of the truck before it was all gone.
Every opportunity to help someone in need is a possible door to present the gospel, Howard said. He has found that in times of crisis people are often more receptive to talking about spiritual things.
“When people lose all their material possessions and they don’t have Jesus Christ, they think they have lost everything because it’s all they have,” Howard said.
Connections made with people during the recovery efforts have opened doors for Howard to possibly help start a Bible study at a community center in the Rodanthe/Salvo area, an area with no Baptist churches.
“This is such a ripe time for people to receive the gospel,” he said.
Although Hatteras was not hit as hard as the northern Outer Banks communities, Howard said Hatteras bore the brunt of damage from the last hurricane to come through, and working together has really brought the island together.
“People are proud, and they are used to doing this themselves. They are almost afraid to take help,” he said.
“We are trying to minister as the Lord allows us to.”
Not long after Hurricane Irene hit did NC Baptist Men send feeding teams to the Outer Banks. They also sent volunteers to help with the shower/laundry units.
NC Baptist Men have served more than 172,000 meals to people affected by the storm.
They have also completed more than 1,720 work requests. Volunteers have led devotions, passed out Bibles, worked with children and, most importantly, shared the gospel of Jesus Christ and seen people come to faith in Christ.
Volunteers are still needed on the Outer Banks.
To sign up, visit baptistsonmission.org. N.C. Baptist Men disaster relief efforts are supported through the North Carolina Missions Offering. For more information visit ncmissionsoffering.org.