I was expecting to see signs of high wind and flooding everywhere among the businesses and homes. But to someone just passing through, or even staying to take in its historic downtown and views of the Neuse and Trent Rivers opening up into the Atlantic, New Bern seems to have moved on from the destruction the recent storm brought. While I anticipated clear signs of damage throughout New Bern, I assumed an effort to rebuild to be readily evident and well underway.
Both assumptions were quickly proven wrong.
New Bern's damage was largely contained to specific communities and outlying towns. Where it was still evident, the aftermath of Florence was widespread, and the road to recovery seemed like one that would take months if not years to travel. But the attitude of the residents, no strangers to hurricanes, was one of thankfulness, hope and perseverance to build upon the loss that so many faced.
My visit to New Bern coincided almost exactly with the one-month anniversary of Florence's arrival. The narrative broadcast by the media when it made landfall was of neighborhoods turned into lakes. After that, though, the story seemed to go silent as the nation’s attention turned to other things.
Traveling through the Fairfield Harbor and Woodrow neighborhoods, as well as the outlying towns of Trenton and Pollocksville, stories of the hurricane and its toll were fresh on people’s minds. The idea of life returning to normal seemed distant. The recurring scene of debris from gutted businesses and homes lined the streets. Every home and building appeared to have been touched by Florence in a manner that changed the resident’s lives. Nearly all of the buildings appeared to be devoid of life. With the contents of their homes and livelihoods ruined by floodwater, most people had moved away to stay with family and friends. Few remained, either beginning the rebuilding process themselves or, with nowhere else to go, still residing in their damp and damaged homes.
For many, this would not be the first time they recovered from a hurricane. But even for those still awaiting the first steps in repairing their lives or who described a numbing experience upon first returning after the hurricane, an astoundingly resilient attitude resonated among them.
There were families with the backs of their homes ripped off by a retreating surge, sailboats in the backyard, and others with no flood insurance or who were denied coverage and are now facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses. All were quick to tell me that they would somehow get through it, that nearly everything they lost could be replaced. The repeating scenes of ruined homes contrasted with their expressions of gratitude and hope.
When I arrived, a month after Florence, the situation seemed dismal. Elderly people faced with the daunting task of starting over. Parents were forced to move in with their children. But there is no doubt, the communities of New Bern will, with continued support, rebuild as many of them have before.
Header Photo Cap: Gail stands outside of her home, which was ruined by Hurricane Florence.
Photo credit: Josh Bunzel Photojournalist
World Renew Disaster Response Services continues to provide volunteer disaster relief services in New Bern and nearby communities in the wake of Hurricane Florence. To learn more and to donate, not only Hurricane Florence, but to Hurricane Michael recovery as well, go to worldrenew.net/hurricanes2018
Visit worldrenew.net/volunteer to find many opportunities to serve in North American and around the world as a follower of Jesus Christ.