In Pitt County, residents are waiting for the Tar River to recede. Some are temporarily living in shelters with little to no idea of what awaits them after the all clear is given to go back home. Chris Thomas visited one of those shelters on October 11th and has this.
It’s Tuesday afternoon at E.B. Aycock Middle School. It’s situated in the middle of a residential neighborhood about a mile east of East Carolina University and about 3 miles south of the Tar River.
But class isn’t in session. It hasn’t been all week in Pitt County at any of its public institutions. Signs at the front door direct everyone to go around the back, where the buses are parked.
The rooms and hallways are bare – except for volunteers and a few evacuees. Weekdays still mean work for most – flood or no flood.
Some of the younger guests play volleyball in the gym – one of the few sounds of normalcy heard in the halls.
Richard Mabry is a volunteer with the American Red Cross and a retired technician. When shelters are open, he says he stays busy.
“I have done things such as dormitory layouts and…cot unloader and generator unloader and food handler and worked on the line – feeding line…when I come to the shelter, I come to work and where there’s a need, that’s where I’ll be.”
Mabry lives off of N.C. 33 – near the Pitt-Greenville Airport. It’s right in the middle of the city’s evacuation zone. He currently lives with his wife – who is at a separate shelter with members of their church in Winterville.
“She has gone with her church sisters to spend the night and I said ‘if you can do that, I can spend the night at the Red Cross.’”
Mabry evacuated over the weekend as Matthew blew through the region but he visited his home to assess the damage caused by the hurricane.
“Trash from other people. I mean, in front of my house was littered with nothing but…boards and paper and trash and pine cones and stuff and you could see where the water come up to my vents at one point in time. So, I mean, it was signs of it there.”
Officials have drawn comparisons between the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Floyd – which set records for flooding across eastern North Carolina 17 years ago. The Tar River in Greenville crested at 25.1 feet Thursday, nearly 4-and-a-half feet shy of the record.
Mabry was in Florida while Floyd came through eastern North Carolina and didn’t have to evacuate. But he remembers the impact it made when he came back to Pitt County.
“Getting back home was a hassle but once I got back here I could see the devastation all around the neighborhood, especially on Old River Road where that…that was just like…disaster.”
Thousands of people across the state have sought shelter from flooding after Hurricane Matthew. More than 300 have checked into Pitt County’s four shelters, according to Cally Edwards of the American Red Cross.
She’s the executive director of the northeastern North Carolina chapter – the organization running the shelters
“There are so many people that are at home, watching – hearing what’s going on in the news and radio and so what I want them to know is that these are their neighbors in need and there are things that they can do to help support them now because this could be any of us.”
Even before the river reached its crest, people were asking what they could do to chip in.
Edwards says the organization is taking stock of what it needs to best help those staying in shelters. They may change as flooding continues through the weekend and into next week.
“Right now, in-kind goods we’re receiving are bottled water, food snacks, hygiene products…and new blankets. Those things we can always use in shelters but we really want people to bring those items to the Red Cross chapter – if it’s here at Greenville, we have a truck where we’re taking items at the truck and can safely store that.”
It’s unknown when the shelters will close but Edwards says the organization’s mission is to get people out and back home as safely and quickly as possible. The shelters are sparse on luxuries. You’re given food, a roof over your head, and a cot.
Not much else.
“I will say that we don’t have everything that’s needed at a shelter for daily life. Living at a shelter is never an optimal experience for anyone but we are focused on meeting the needs of the masses right now.”
But that may have to do for hundreds in eastern North Carolina, including Richard Mabry for the near future. The latest forecast from the National Weather Service has the Tar River in Greenville above flood stage until next Thursday.
“I packed a bag. But basically whatever I have to do, whatever’s not in that bag, I’ll have to go to Wal-Mart and get it.”
That suits him just fine, though. All the irreplaceables – his and his wife’s life – are out of harm’s way.
I’m Chris Thomas.