Volunteers Doing the 'Dirty Work' to Help Ocracoke Island Homeowners

September 20, 2019 • United States
Samaritan's Purse volunteers are working hard and doing the "dirty work" needed to help homeowners on Ocracoke.
Samaritan's Purse volunteers are working hard and doing the "dirty work" needed to help homeowners on Ocracoke.

Samaritan's Purse teams are busy helping clean up after Hurricane Dorian hit the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

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Philip Howard, 75, stood at his front door and watched as a wall of water from Pamlico Sound rushed down the road toward his house on Ocracoke Island.

Philip Howard speaks with a volunteer outside of his home.

Philip Howard speaks with a Samaritan’s Purse volunteer outside of his home.

“The water just kept rising higher and higher and higher, and I thought if it breaches the top points of my fence then I’m going to have water in the house,” he said. “Sure enough, it didn’t take long until it was pouring over the fence and up onto the porch.”

Philip closed the door and came inside, but seconds later water gushed beneath the door and started coming up between the floorboards.

“Every building in our compound was flooded,” Philip said. The compound includes his historic house, built in 1865; his daughter Amy’s home next door; his handcraft business; his brother’s trailer; a workshop; and a shed.

Samaritan’s Purse is on the ground on Ocracoke helping Philip and dozens of other residents recover from Hurricane Dorian’s devastation. Volunteers with our U.S. Disaster Relief are tearing out dry wall and wet insulation, pulling up ruined hardwood and tiled floors, crawling beneath houses to treat floor trusses to keep out mold, cutting downed trees, and tarping wind-damaged roofs.

Rachel O'Neal and her son Austin received a special Bible after volunteers worked on their home.

Rachel O’Neal and her son Austin received a special Bible signed by volunteers who worked on their home.

When Hurricane Dorian swept up the East Coast toward North Carolina’s Outer Banks, it targeted tiny Ocracoke Island. The storm, a Category 1 at the time, inundated the popular tourist destination with a 7-foot surge of seawater that flooded approximately 80 to 90 percent of the island’s nearly 1,400 homes and businesses. Many people escaped to safety in their attics, others were airlifted by helicopter, and still others were rescued by boats that sailed along the canal-like roads and alleys. Floodwaters were the deepest since a hurricane ravaged the area in 1944.

“The water was above my knees,” said Rachel O’Neal, who was standing in her living room with her young son Austin when the swelling tide invaded her recently remodeled house. “I was just hoping it would stop. But once it came in, I knew I had lost everything.”

“I knew I had lost everything.”

Volunteers Are ‘Big, Big Help’

Tamara Benjamin and three of her friends (Erin Lynch, Tiana Cooper, Yutty Navarro) from New Bern, North Carolina, had planned a girls’ day out on Ocracoke to bike, shop, and enjoy a relaxing lunch on Sept. 17. Unfortunately, Dorian changed all that. “But we heard about Samaritan’s Purse needing volunteers,” Tamara said, “so we all got together and agreed it would be a good idea to come over and stick with our plan since we had the day off from work and lend a helping hand.”

(from left to right) Volunteers are a big help on Ocracoke. Erin, Tiana, homeowner Amy Howard, and Tamara. Yutty stands in back with Nike cap.

(from left to right) Volunteers are a big help on Ocracoke. Erin, Tiana, homeowner Amy Howard, and Tamara. Yutty stands in back with Nike cap.

Together, the four ladies spent the day at Amy Howard’s flood-mangled home ripping out flooring and paneling, pulling out dozens of nails, and carrying trash to the roadside.

“I am very thankful that Samaritan’s Purse came in,” Amy said. “I don’t know what I would have done without them.”

And more day volunteers like Tamara and her friends are needed, said Keeth Willingham, a program manager with U.S. Disaster Relief.

LEARN MORE: VOLUNTEERS NEEDED FOR OCRACOKE

“People are able to come on the ferry pretty freely as walk-ons,” he said. But he admits that the island’s remoteness and only being able to reach it by ferry, presents a problem. “It’s hard to engage folks, given the circumstances.”

But those who do make it are very much appreciated.

Volunteers on Ocracoke work to remove flooring after flooding from Hurricane Dorian.

Volunteers on Ocracoke work to remove flooring after flooding from Hurricane Dorian.

Philip, whose great, great, great, great, great grandfather purchased Ocracoke Island in 1759, is grateful for the volunteers. “I couldn’t be happier with the work they’ve done,” he said.

“It was nasty, dirty work and difficult because they had to crawl beneath the house,” he continued. “I have nothing but praise for their willingness to do that for somebody they’d never met before. It was a really gracious offer.”

Rachel concurs. “They’ve been a big, big help” she said. “I’m a single mom. It’s just me and my son. I don’t have flood insurance. If it wasn’t for the volunteers, I wouldn’t have made it this far. I probably would have just walked away and lost everything.”

Also thankful for the Samaritan’s Purse work force is Sarah Warren, 63, who has lived on the island her entire life. Her childhood home is where her 87-year-old mother still lives, along with Sarah’s special needs brother. The house took a beating from Dorian.

Sarah Warren—standing in her mother's home—was thankful for help from Samaritan's Purse.

Sarah Warren—standing in her mother’s home—was thankful for help from Samaritan’s Purse.

“The bathroom had to be torn out,” she said. “All the studs have loads of nails in them and the ladies are in there taking every nail out of every stud, which is a lot of work. The guys are in there tearing out particle board. They’re tearing out the cabinets. The work they’re doing is amazing.”

But it’s not just about the physical labor being done, Keeth said.

“We pray that the volunteers’ efforts and the compassion and the demonstration of being the hands and feet of Christ will help the homeowners understand that it’s not about what the volunteers are physically doing, but that it’s about what the Lord has to offer,” the Samaritan’s Purse staffer said.

“We want to show them that there is something other than the natural beauty that is around them,” he continued. “There is beauty that’s available to them through the shed blood of Jesus Christ and an opportunity to get to know Him and lay their concerns and fears of life, not just from Dorian, but life in general at His feet. We want to be a new kind of lighthouse on the island.”

“We want to be a new kind of lighthouse on the island.”

Please pray for the people on Ocracoke Island who have lost so much, and pray for our volunteers as they serve and share the hope found only in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

On Ocracoke Island, Samaritan's Purse volunteers and a Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplain pray before starting the day's work.

On Ocracoke Island, Samaritan’s Purse volunteers and a Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplain pray before starting the day’s work.

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U.S. Disaster Relief Samaritan's Purse mobilizes and equips thousands of volunteers to provide emergency aid to U.S. victims of wildfires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. In the aftermath of major storms, we often stay behind to rebuild houses for people with nowhere else to turn for help.

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