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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Family emerges from disaster to rebuild as Hurricane Florence slammed their tiny South Carolina town

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What it’s like to watch hurricanes batten your hometown — over and over again. A mother, a father, and siblings: A family who lost their home to Hurricane Florence put their story on a 6,000-word BuzzFeed News series called the Faces of Florence. The series explains what people lost, and shares what others are living on. View As: One Page Slides

“Hello sunshine. Happy Wednesday to you.”

My heart broke as I read this. No words can describe how my entire family felt when the storm tore through our neighborhood of Ladson, South Carolina. Hundreds of pounds of lumber flew through the air and landed on the roof of our trailer.

The smell of burning wood, weed growth, and erosion became a constant. The smell stayed with us for weeks. The debris from the burned-out remains, along with thick brush, covered the homes. Crumbling walls and cracked roofs transformed our neighborhood.

We walked along the sidewalk to pass the destroyed houses. The neighboring fence and a pair of hand-painted signs stuck out against the chaotic haze. We passed boarded-up windows and thick tree limbs draped over the streets.

Once the eye of the storm was past, my neighborhood was unrecognizable. The rains and winds were blinding. Rainstorms had been sporadic in the months leading up to the storm. By day two, the waves ripped walls off homes, uprooted trees, and lifted roofs off roofs.

I was too terrified to go outside after nightfall, so I worked over the weekend.

“No one can protect us here.”

A photo of flooded Massachusetts Street, Richmond, South Carolina.

I stared out the window on Thursday and had never seen so much water in my life. Flooding was happening everywhere. Our neighborhood had been added to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s hit list.

I kept my eyes on the water. It became an ever-present image in my mind. The water constantly rose and came down. I never felt safe.

“Storms, Mother Nature: He who stays is lost.”

On Wednesday morning, the sun peeked through the clouds. We gathered all we could. The smell of storm debris filled the air. My nerves swelled and my heart began to thrash. Things were going to get worse if we didn’t act.

We made sandwiches, drank coffee, and enjoyed the last hours of power. With the phone going out, it was all we had. We tried to make it through the day. By noon, we had no lights. We waited for the light to turn on and no power to go out. Later that night, we had to sleep in our trailer.

The next morning, we went for a walk in the neighborhood. I was in shock. The sun was very visible and flooding our neighborhood. Thankfully, we were back home by 1 p.m.

That’s when we had to face the reality. No one could protect us here. We had to rebuild. We shared our story with friends and family. We visited a FEMA shelter, where families were waiting to be relocated.

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday brought more rain and lightning. On Sunday, we decided to take up the last of our insurance money and sell our home. It had been our family home for more than 30 years. We looked at it and we saw we didn’t want to live there anymore. We moved out. We returned to our home in New Hampshire. But the house I built there 20 years ago was still standing. All of the money from the sale of our home in South Carolina was gone. My family and I had to start over.

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