Two weeks after the president visited their neighborhood in Conway, Bill and Diane Parker sit on a sofa in their front yard, surrounded by furniture. They’ve just come home for the first time since Hurricane Florence’s flood waters ravaged their Sherwood community, east of downtown. The damage is worse than they imagined.
“I would lie in bed at night and think about each room,” Diane Parker said. “What did I leave? What’s there that is possibly going to be ruined”.
The answer she now knows is just about everything. Much of their belongings inside their home are wet, damp, crumbling, broken or moldy. Everything smells. Even the air outside is suffocating.
“The smell is the most disgusting, awful, nauseating, how do you go through your things and throw everything away as you’re about to vomit? It is horrible,” said Diane.
The couple had been renting a condo in Myrtle Beach as they waited for the flood waters to recede. While they were gone, a nearby waste water facility overwhelmed by flooding stopped working and discharged sewage into nearby water ways. The Waccamaw River crested to a record high 22 feet. Small, dead fish are scattered across the lawn and driveway.
“There are a lot of people worse off than we are,” Bill Parker said. There are a lot people who don’t even have insurance and it’s a shame."
The Parkers are some of the first in their neighborhood to come home, where roughly 400 people have been displaced. Nearby streets are still barricaded. Flood waters got as high as six to eight feet in some areas. Now receding, brown stains from the water are visible up to the windows of some homes.
“Well it’s all the flood waters from North Carolina,” said Bill. “When it came in, it stayed in one spot for days and all that water has to go this away just to get out.”
Bill works the phone, trying to see what his flood insurance will cover, but doubts it will be enough for what he estimates to be $200,000.00 in damage. He’s also looking for a new place to live, knowing they’ll have to carry two mortgages for a while. A home they looked at and liked has already been sold. He's been in this home for 20 years. At 74 years-old old, Bill Parker is starting over.
Meantime, Diane heads back inside. The home’s hardwood floors are buckled and the plaster walls are crumbling. It looks like the flood waters got as high as three feet in some places. Many of the antiques they elevated before they left can’t be saved.
“What happened was the water got so high it made the stuff float then it would fall over and break,” Diane said.
Sewage has spilled into the shower. The Jacuzzi tub bubbles with a brown, pungent water. Closet doors are stuck shut. The couple’s clothes are musty and damp. Even a tall, metal safe is not dry inside.
“It’s not safe for us actually to be in here,” said Diane. “We need masks on but we don’t have them yet.” They also need gloves and a lot of help.
Home improvement company vans make their way around the neighborhood. Insurance agents knock on doors. It’s been nearly a month since Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina and for many across the nation, the storm is done. But for people in Conway, it’s really just begun.
Bill sighs. “We’ll just keep plugging away and praying. That’s all we can do.”