The three-hour car ride from Garner to Swan Quarter was only the beginning of our journey. Once there, we drove onto the ferry and settled in for the two hour and forty-minute ride across the Pamlico Sound to Ocracoke. Other than aircraft, traveling the Sound is the only way to get to the island of Ocracoke. That means that whatever relief coming to the island has to travel the same way.
Our ferry to Ocracoke: the MV Swan Quarter. Photos: Derek Leek
Since the storm came through, private boats have been helping to bring supplies and help get people back to the island but for most folks, the ferry is the only option. We shared the ferry, the MV Swan Quarter, with volunteers traveling to help, tractor-trailers carrying supplies, and island residents making their way back from the mainland.
We spoke with Captain David Rose of the MV Swan Quarter. Video: Chris Daniel and Derek Leek
In the aftermath of disaster, once it is deemed safe to enter areas damaged by storms, traveling to places in need is usually straightforward. But when the area in question lies across a large body of water, and a ferry is required to make the trip, and that ferry only travels at certain times of the day, it definitely makes a difference in how quickly volunteers can respond. It also impacts how those volunteers can get the things they need in order to begin the process of recovery and rebuilding. It’s not as simple as taking a quick trip to Lowe’s for supplies, or to Walmart for groceries. When you come to work, you bring everything you need with you.
When you arrive, the familiar salt breeze is cut through with another scent: the smell of a flood. Water that has come in, sat, and stayed too long, leaving behind wet, and decay, and damage. It is a smell that is all too familiar in coastal cities and towns throughout our state, and Ocracoke is certainly no stranger to it.
Scenes like this are repeated all over the island. Photos by Cullen Whitley (bottom tree photo) and Amanda Packer
Visible reminders of the storm are everywhere. Dorian’s water line is noticeable all over the island on homes and other structures, a reminder of how high and how fast the water came in. Even more shocking is how much higher the water was compared to other storms like Matthew.
And there is no way to miss the piles of debris left behind when the water receded. Furniture, books, and toys. Refrigerators, stoves, washers, and dryers. Fallen trees and damaged vehicles, victims of the power of wind and water.
More damage. In the bottom picture, the marker at the top of the steps is for Dorian’s waterline; the next marker down is for Matthew, almost two feet lower. Photos by Allan Smith from Lowe’s Home Improvement (top center and right), Amanda Packer (top left), and Derek Leek (bottom)
All of this – the time and distance required to reach the island, the logistics of getting supplies to the island, the debris that must be moved off the island in order to begin rebuilding – only serve to compound the challenges of recovering from Dorian. Conservative estimates place the level of damage across the island at 80%. Electric meters have been pulled from countless homes and businesses. Grocery stores, restaurants and places to stay are closed while owners make repairs, further impacting the ability of volunteers to come and work at full capacity.
Reverend Ivey Belch, from the Lifesaving Church, shared with us the need for volunteers.
Video: Chris Daniel and Amanda Packer
But there are signs of hope. An operations center was established at the fire station shortly after Dorian came through. As supplies began to arrive from the mainland, they were quickly organized and prepared for distribution.
The operations center (set up and run by volunteers) is up and running, thanks to Rev. Belch and others. Video: Chris Daniel
Volunteer relief organizations, like Disaster Ministries in partnership with UMCOR, Baptists on Mission, Samaritan’s Purse, and Christian Ministry, have divided the island into quadrants so that resources and volunteers can be best utilized and maximized. And everywhere you go, people are working, helping one another, as the long process of getting back to normal begins.
One of the first priorities for volunteer work teams is to get houses and debris clear so that rebuilding can begin. Video: Chris Daniel
Ocracoke UMC, one of the two churches on the island, suffered damage to several areas of its building. When we visit, flooring has been pulled up, the church’s organ and piano sit in the middle of office chairs and other furniture, and mixed in the debris pile out front are water-soaked hymnals and toys from the nursery.
Some of the damage from Ocracoke UMC, including the church’s hymnals and Bibles, and the chancel area. Photos: Rev. Cliff Harvell (left), Amanda Packer (center and right)
Inside the sanctuary, all the pews are pushed to one side, and the chancel area is stripped of furniture. If you didn’t see the outside and didn’t know that a hurricane had come through, you might think that the sanctuary was merely in the midst of renovations. But all of this work is being done in order to preserve the historic church and prevent damage down the road. Volunteers in masks and other protective gear work to remove water-damaged flooring and wallboards, preparing the way for other teams who will come to rebuild and make the sanctuary available for worshippers to gather.
We spoke with Gary Smith, Trustees chairperson at Ocracoke UMC, who shared with us what he found when he went to the church after Dorian came through. Video: Chris Daniel. Photos: Gary Smith, Jay Locklear, Ocracoke Current
Around the corner, at the parsonage, the scene is repeated. A large pile of debris from the house is occupying much of the front yard. Inside, it is obvious where the water has been and left its mark on the house. Floors and walls have already been stripped down to expose the structural elements underneath, and work has already begun to repair the damage.
Work has already begun on the parsonage, which had four feet of water inside in the midst of the storm. Photos: Derek Leek
The Rev. Susie Fitch-Slater, pastor at Ocracoke UMC, and her husband were in the parsonage when Dorian roared through. As the water invaded the house (eventually reaching four feet), they were forced to retreat to the attic. There they waited, either for the water to recede, or to make a call to be rescued.
The attic space where Rev. Fitch-Slater and her husband waited for the waters to recede.
Photo: Derek Leek
As the storm passed, the water did recede, but not before leaving its mark, literally and figuratively, on not just the parsonage and the church, but the entire community. Dorian’s high-water mark, upwards of 50 inches in most places, is evident all throughout the island. The debris left behind, now mingled with the early efforts of mucking out homes and businesses, is a fixture on every street. Everywhere you go, you are reminded of the strength of wind and water.
Much has been done, but so much remains to be done, as residents clean up and attempt to rebuild. Photos: Allan Smith (bottom right), Amanda Packer (top center and right, bottom left), and Jay Locklear (top left)
What happens next? Assessments are being done to determine what can be rebuilt. Basic services are being restored as debris is cleared. School will resume soon in various locations on the island as the school building is repaired. And a community is coming together in ways that are beautiful and generous.
Generosity is on full display all over the island, with residents and volunteers from all over coming together. Video: Chris Daniel. Photos: Rev. Cliff Harvell, Cullen Whitley, and Derek Leek
Life is getting back to a version of normal, different than before, as the island moves toward recovery. North Carolina Conference Disaster Ministries, along with partners and volunteers, is working to bring hope and healing to this community. We encourage you to continue to support our efforts by giving a financial donation, or by volunteering your time as part of a team.
It will take residents and volunteers working together to rebuild and recover from this latest storm. Photos: The Ocracoke Current (left), Amanda Packer (right)