homeless on Hatteras are living a nomadic lifestyle
was the day before the evacuation for Hurricane Irene was ordered, and
Marilyn Midgett got the carpets cleaned in her Rodanthe home.
week later, her carpets were stripped out of her house and piled next
to the highway as trash, ruined by soundside flooding.
Today, the one-story brick exterior of her house looks okay but the
inside has been totally gutted from floor to ceiling. Old
pictures lie on the floor of the enclosed carport. Random
of furniture sit on the bare sub-flooring.
Gone are the lower kitchen cabinets and all appliances. Fumes
from the Clorox, which was used to kill mold and mildew, tickle the
throat. What was home is now an uninhabitable mess.
Piles of upholstered furniture, which is probably unsalvageable, litter
the front lawn. For the moment, they are drying
out. But in
all likelihood, they will be taken to the dump because of mold and
Marilyn, 66, is the widow of former Dare County Commissioner Joseph
“Mac” Midgett, and lives alone. She has two grown children
two grandchildren who live on the island, and they work together in the
family business, which includes, among other things Island Convenience
For some, this would be emotionally insurmountable. For Marilyn, she
acts like nothing is different.
“A whole lotta people got hurt a lot worse than I did,” says Marilyn.
Her daughter, Martha Caldwell, lives in Hatteras village and her son,
Joey, lives in Frisco, but Marilyn didn’t want to leave Rodanthe when
her house was ruined and has taken to living the nomadic life of moving
around every two or three days.
Immediately after the storm, Marilyn spent the first three nights with
her daughter in Hatteras village.
“Didn’t like the drive,” she argued.
So she spent a few nights with her nephew, Gary, who has a house across
the street from Island Convenience.
“Don’t like stairs,” she continued.
So, she took advantage of the slow business time and spent a week with
a friend in Como, N.C. When she returned home, she spent
two days with Gary, but on the lower level this time, then two days
with her son in Frisco, and so on.
But still drawn to the town she calls home, Marilyn decided to spend
some nights in the back of the store.
“It has a couch and a half-bath,” Marilyn says. “The carpet’s
little smelly – got wet in the hurricane.”
Almost a month after the hurricane, she plans to continue this
lifestyle. It may be Thanksgiving before her house will be
“She just won’t leave,” says her daughter.
Marilyn seems comfortable with her situation and seems to enjoy being
at work. In fact, she acts nonchalant about the entire
The day before the storm came and with her carpets sparkling clean, she
spent the day cooking because her children and their families were
coming to stay with her during the storm in the one-story, brick
ranch-style house that sits on the ground.
“Everything I own is here – my store and rentals,” Marilyn explains.
The family spent most of Saturday, Aug. 27, the day of the storm,
without electricity, which went out at 8:05 a.m. By
there were early signs of rising sound waters.
“On the screened porch, the water started bubbling up and carrying on,”
About 4 inches of water came in the house, but the weather outside
seemed to be calming and the family went to bed. Marilyn’s
granddaughters, Myra, 14 and Claudia, 10, climbed into grandma’s
king-sized bed to finish the storm asleep.
Even though the family was resting, the hurricane still had work to do.
“Look, Mema, look how high the water is,” said Myra, pointing
the knob on the night stand.
For a moment the water was below the knob. In short order,
water was over that knob, making the water knee-high in the bedroom.
get a little uneasy,” says Martha, “but she (Marilyn) was the calmest.”
Marilyn sat in a chair to keep it from floating away. Then
asked a granddaughter to grab a stool that was bobbing in the
water. She put her feet on it to keep it in place and asked
In a manner that was all Marilyn, she reassured her family that
“everything is going to be okay. No one is going to drown in
house,” a structure that had protected the family for more than 40
Martha and husband, Scott, made a game plan to go into the
He pulled a dryer underneath the tiny hole in the ceiling that accessed
the attic and got a kitchen chair to use as a step.
A good plan, maybe. Marilyn turned to Scott and told him that
couldn’t fit in that hole. The access was unusually small.
The water was now hip-high inside the house.
Plan B meant going outside. Scott tied a rope to the railing
the house next door that sat a little higher than Marilyn’s
house. One at a time, each person used the rope to get to
through water that was neck-high on grandma. Two dogs were
carried through the water via the lifeline, too.
This part of the story has a happy ending. The family
unhurt, and the house can be repaired. Marilyn has been
from her home and yet, somehow, life is good.
“You learn what is important,” says Marilyn. “Things can get
whole lot worse than losing your house.”
Waves resident Sheila Collie, 48, evacuated for Hurricane Irene, which
was billed as “the Big One.” She and her 80-year-old mother
the island in a car with a few belongings. They thought they
would be gone for only one night.
But, it would be 11 days before she would be allowed to return to the
island because of restrictions that were in place to reduce the number
of people on the island after the storm because of the power situation.
Her home had 28 inches of water inside and the damage was extensive.
“What is the difference – 11 inches or 28 inches -- the result is the
same,” Sheila theorizes.
The problem here was Sheila couldn’t get home to deal with her
house. Time is critical following floodwater in a house to
the structure from a mold and mildew outbreak.
Five days following the hurricane, friends Paul and Maria Rosell from
Hatteras took the bull by the horns and got into her house to remove
the furniture, floors, carpets, walls, appliances, insulation, kitchen
cabinets – everything! There were many people
teen-agers, church groups.
According to Sheila, there were so many blessings and miracles along
“I just had to trust that they kept what needed keeping and tossed
things that were unimportant or unsalvageable,” says Sheila.
the moment, I have no idea what I have.”
When residents were finally allowed to return to Hatteras Island,
Sheila left her mother in Hillsborough with family and drove home alone
through an area in Columbia that had been hit by a tornado spawned by
Remembering those people heightens Sheila’s emotional state.
seen raw tornado damage before,” Sheila begins. “Shells of
with people just sitting in a chair in the middle of what used to be a
house. At least, I had my car and what was in it.”
Sheila is now staying in a friend’s summer house and feels “very
fortunate” for this situation. She will probably be here for
to fives months. Her reality check was realizing that her
won’t be able to come back to the island until after Christmas.
Many residents of the northern villages are scrambling to find shelter
during this rebuilding process.
are people living in the Salvo Volunteer Fire Department or sleeping on
a relative’s couch because that is all there is - old people and the
young. Others have set-up living spaces in friends’
garages. Tiny travel trailers are now home for several while
their homes are salvaged or rebuilt.
Some residents still have to go to work and staff the few businesses
that are open in this area. They go wearing thrift store clothing and
without a home to retire to at day’s end.
The Salvo Inn Motel is providing rooms to people who need
There are more options for shelter in Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras
which were less affected by the hurricane, but most are unwilling or
unable to travel back and forth. There are an untold number
vehicles that were destroyed by Hurricane Irene’s flood waters.
Laura Dillard is working for a division of the N.C. Emergency
Management called Transitional Shelter Assistance Program (TSA) and is
set-up at the Rodanthe Community Center to help.
program is designed to help displaced residents find a short term
situation until they can locate a more suitable place that is available
for five or six months. Now that the summer rental season has
abruptly ended, Dillard feels that the timing is good for finding
longer-term temporary housing.
“Most people have managed well on their own,” says Dillard.
don’t want to leave Rodanthe. It seems to be the nature of
group of people that they want to handle things themselves.
we still have people living in mold and mildew.”
Mold and mildew present a real health hazard to everyone, especially to
people with allergies, the very young and the elderly.
People can exhibit symptoms just by breathing in mold spores, resulting
in sneezing and coughing, and longer exposures can lead to sinus
infections, repetitive headaches, and severe flu-like
Physical contact can cause skin rash and irritation.
The Really, Really Free Market opened in the Wave’s Plaza as part of a
local volunteer effort to help this devastated area. It works
like a thrift store but everything is totally free. It has
lifesaver for those who have lost nearly everything.
The recent drop in temperatures drove lots of locals to the market in
search of warmer clothing.
According to volunteer worker, Jen Johnson, “People are taking exactly
what they need. For some, it may only be a day or two worth
clothes because they have nowhere to put clothes.”
The emotional toll is starting to hit hard to this storm-ravaged
area. For weeks, people have been so busy helping friends and
neighbors plus doing their own clean-up that they didn’t take the time
The workers at the Really Free Market agree that the storm victims see
how long the road to recovery is and “now it’s really overwhelming.”
Sheila’s positive attitude is indicative of the can-do attitude that is
so prevalent with the hardy tri-village folks. Even with her
house devoid of walls and with huge fans running full time to
accelerate the drying process for the house’s framework, Sheila’s
thoughts turns to others.
“My goal was to get out and volunteer,” Sheila says.
Because she was gone for 11 days, she “felt that I hadn’t done one
thing for the community. Gotta pay it forward. The
Men helped me gut the house, I got to help them here,” pointing to the
community center in Rodanthe.
Being busy helps this islander deal with the harsh reality of what has
happened to her. However, she also feels that if her job was
available, she would be emotionally unable to work. Helping
less fortunate than herself somehow gives her the strength to deal with
her own rebuilding process, which is monumental.
From school teachers to fire chiefs, young and old, rich or poor, the
hurricane didn’t discriminate. Those victimized by Hurricane
Irene are just taking it day by day to overcome the horrific damages to
this part of the Hatteras Island.
With homes uninhabitable and the 2011 job season over, some have their
sights set on just trying to make it to March 1, 2012, the unofficial
start of a new season.
“This is tough, real tough” Sheila admits