In the Post-Florence, Pre-Michael purgatory we find ourselves in and upon the urging of a fellow REALTOR®, I’ve taken some time to gather my thoughts about our situation here at the Crystal Coast and how we have been impacted.
Initially, as we were going through the storm and in the first few days after the storm passed, my mind and my “chalkboard” became flooded with the comical and ridiculous things that became normal during our extended period of indoor camping. I’ll start with those:
1. Board shorts are your best bet for every day attire as you will inevitably be sweating profusely, get caught in the rain and/or be power washing something every day. They also dry quickly when you have to hand wash them in the sink.
2. It’s completely normal to not know or care what day or time it is.
3. Chips and Miller Lite are acceptable staples for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
4. Cooking in a skillet hooked to a generator on the floor of the garage is fancy.
5. Even without power or cable, you’ll know the minute your town is mentioned on the Weather Channel because your phone will light up like a switchboard.
6. Bleach and Lysol replace your favorite perfume.
7. When you go to get your free tetanus shot and your arm gushes blood, it’s perfectly ok to admit that #3 is most likely the reason for that.
8. When you’re an adult you don’t complain about having a curfew.
9. Finding out Publix is open and making sandwiches is amazing…being asked if you want it toasted will make you cry tears of joy.
10. Eyebrows take on a life of their own when left unchecked that long.
11. Carrying masks and gloves everywhere you go is not considered creepy.
12. The smell from trash trucks has some serious hang time after everyone in town has emptied their refrigerators and freezers. Those guys are unsung heroes.
13. It was not considered odd to spend money to purchase sand…at the beach.
Like everyone else, my initial focus was on survival and on being positive and grateful that my family, friends and I had made it through the storm in one piece. As time has gone by and I’ve been able to digest what’s happened here, more profound thoughts have slowly begun to take over. I find myself overwhelmed by the shear magnitude of the widespread damage, the likes of which I’ve never seen before. The flood of emotions is difficult to comprehend and even more difficult to convey as we navigated through the fear and anticipation of the unknown and the harsh reality of the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. We continue to go through assessment, demolition, clean up, rebuilding and in many cases homelessness. We wearily attempt to fumble through the never-ending and cumbersome processes of completing FEMA applications, filing multiple insurance claims (homeowners, wind & hail, flood and business), D-SNAP, unemployment and the list goes on and on…all initially without power and internet. We worried about the loss of our homes and belongings and if anything could be salvaged, the loss of food and when stores would reopen so that we could replace it, where to find gas, when will we return to work, when will the kids return to school, when will we see a return to normalcy.
This experience has been a wild mix of exhaustion, helplessness, guilt, compassion and pride. The exhaustion reaches to the core. It is not just the physical exhaustion that comes from now weeks of hauling supplies, raking, cleaning, ripping out carpets and sheetrock, moving furniture, etc. but is an emotional exhaustion that stems from seeing so much devastation everywhere you go and the on-going stress, worry and lack of sleep. It’s inescapable as it can be seen it in every town and heard from every person.
For those who have only seen pictures, they don’t even begin to tell the tale. While comments were callously made that the damage wasn’t that bad because houses weren’t leveled, the harsh reality is that nearly every home had some kind of damage, most of the time resulting in 30-40” inches of rain indoors and/or rising water with an estimated $1.8B in damage in my county alone. As I write this, 27 days after the storm began to impact us, not one day has gone by that I haven’t seen more people’s belongings on the curb, trees still being cut down and tarps still blanketing the area. Some days, helpless doesn’t even begin to describe it…what to do, how to help, how do we recover, am I doing enough?
On those rare occasions, I’ve actually allowed or more so required myself to sit, reflect and recharge, the feelings of panic and anxiety about my personal situation begin to creep in. It’s far easier to help others than it is to figure out how to cope with my own mess. I am single and self-employed in an industry that just suffered a massive blow. I and so many other local brokers have lost business due to damage resulting in lost or delayed income. My office is uninhabitable and repairs have not even begun. A safe estimate for the timeframe of displacement is 2 months, but I still owe rent. My furnishings were damaged and it’s unlikely I will get any insurance money since it was not destroyed. So my option is to clean up moldy, water damaged furniture and pay for storage. I worry about myself, my business, my brokers, my industry and my ability to make a living and keep a roof over my head. I attempt to focus on the positive, as I did not have damage to my house…then realize because of that I qualify for nothing but possibly a SBA loan for my loss of belongings and income. How do you pay back a loan with lost income? Another worry. I feel guilty for worrying about money. I feel guilty for not having as much damage as others. I feel guilty for thinking about my situation and myself at all, so I mostly choose not to.
In the midst of all the chaos and emotions, there has been a constant bright light shining. That bright light was the compassion I witnessed. I not only heard from family, friends, clients and fellow REALTORS® before, during and after the storm, but REALTORS® across the state organized and delivered supplies to help our community. Their contributions made an immediate impact in an area many of them have never even laid eyes on. Additionally, at every place I’ve volunteered I was blown away as I heard story after story of personal loss yet there they were volunteering to help others. In an area ravaged by a storm and without power for 1-2 weeks, people here were still kind and grateful. This place is a weird, beautiful oasis and I am so proud to live here and can’t imagine going through this anywhere else.
As with all life’s challenges, this too is yet another learning opportunity and a chance to demonstrate how we should treat each other every single day. There was no bickering, no agenda, no differences. There was only helping each other, collectively, become a little stronger each day. For the locals, you are resilient beyond comprehension. For those who visit, know that this place and these people are an irreplaceable treasure.