After Florence

As the plane descended into New Bern, NC, I had already begun scanning for telltale traces of the hurricane that had recently come through. I was expecting to see symptoms of flooding and high winds everywhere, among businesses and homes. But to someone just passing through, or even staying to take in its historic downtown and views of the Neuse and Trent Rivers opening up into the Atlantic, New Bern seems to have moved on from the destruction that Florence brought. While I anticipated clear signs of damage throughout New Bern, I assumed an effort to rebuild to be readily evident and well underway. Both assumptions were quickly proved to be wrong. New Bern’s damage was largely contained to specific communities and outlying towns. Where it was still evident, the aftermath of Florence was widespread, and the road to recovery seemed like one that would take months if not years to travel. But the attitude of the residents, no stranger to hurricanes, was one of thankfulness, hope, and perseverance to build upon the loss that so many faced.

My visit to New Bern coincided almost exactly with the one month anniversary of Florence’s arrival. The narrative given by the media when it made landfall was of neighborhoods turned into lakes. After that, though, the story seemed to go silent as the nation’s attention turned to other things. Traveling through the Fairfield Harbor and Woodrow neighborhoods as well as the outlying towns of Trenton and Pollocksville, stories of the hurricane and its toll were fresh. The idea of life returning to normal seemed distant. A recurring scene of debris from gutted businesses and homes lined the streets. Every home and building appeared to have been touched by Florence in a life-changing manner. Nearly all appeared to be devoid of life. With the contents of their homes and livelihoods ruined by floodwaters, most had moved away to stay with family and friends. Few remained, either beginning the rebuilding process themselves or, with nowhere else to go, still residing in their damp and damaged homes. For many, this would not be the first time they recovered from a hurricane. But even for those still awaiting the first steps in repairing their lives or who described a numbing experience upon first returning after the hurricane, an astoundingly resilient attitude resonated among them.

Families with the backs of their homes ripped off by a retreating surge, sailboats in their backyard, and others with no flood insurance or denied coverage facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses were quick to tell me that they would somehow get through it. That nearly everything they lost could be replaced. The repeating scenes of ruined homes contrasted their expressions of gratitude and hope. A month after Florence, the situation seemed dismal. Elderly faced with the daunting task of starting over. Parents forced to move in with their children. But there is no doubt, the communities of New Bern will, with continued support, rebuild as many of them have before.



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