story of one Kinnakeet family and the
struggle to rebuild after Hurricane Irene
Fullers are your typical Hatteras Island family with two young
children. There’s curly-haired Grace, who will turn 5 in January and is
too adorable for words, and Big Jack, who will turn 2, also in January,
and whose size alone, despite his sweet nature, has prompted folks to
say “Boy, I hope he’s not a bully when he grows up!”
the mom, is a marketing associate and photographer at a local real
estate company, and Jamie, the dad, is an established construction
worker, affiliated with a number of respected contractors on the
your typical successful local family and community members.
these days, unfortunately, they are typical for another reason as well
– they are one of the many families that are still adjusting to an
altered, uprooted life after Hurricane Irene and will do so for months
story begins with a historical one-story house in Avon village, which
has always been in Jamie’s family and is an estimated 110 years old.
whose family has deep roots on the island, purchased the home from a
cousin 9 or 10 years ago, in exchange for some cash and some labor. At
that time, the little, red one-story building -- fondly called “The Red
House” -- was in need of attention. It had spent a few decades as a
residence, and then as a store during the 1940s and 1950s, and then a
residence again. By the time Jamie claimed it, the house hadn’t been
used in a long time and was in desperate need of some restoration.
and his wife spent the next decade tearing out floors and walls to the
bare wood and timbers beneath, adding rooms, adding walls, closing up
the “trap door” on the floor that was installed decades ago as an
old-school means to let flood waters out, and basically creating a home
that could fit their growing family.
the Fullers were smart and seasoned locals. They knew that the water in
Avon had risen before and was likely to rise again -- after all, there
was originally a trap door for floodwater. So while renovating, they
made conscious decisions to make the home as flood-proof as possible.
insulation they used was flood resistant, a sort of silver-bubble-wrap
that lay under the Pergo floors and behind the walls, and, instead of
drywall, they opted for wainscoting and wooden beadboard that could
hopefully be salvaged in the wake of a flood and that climbed a good
three feet up the walls.
in mind that the house and the renovations were paid for out of pocket
from the get-go, so the Fullers were not required to have insurance.
And being on a tight budget, they were unable to shell out more money
for the staggering high cost of flood insurance on a historical
one-story home, sitting only a foot and a half off the ground.
hard work and a few years of persistence, they finished renovations two
years ago and finally moved in, with a “Fullers” placard welcoming
folks at the front door.
the initial weather forecasts about Hurricane Irene came in, they
prepared well, moving everything upwards as high as they could. Jamie
brought in saw-horses and long planks of wood, and they loaded their
possessions up on these makeshift stilts as high as they could go,
including furniture, beds, appliances, and toys, and readied their home
for the storm.
rooms were especially important.
made it a point to do everything we could to make sure her [Grace’s]
room was the most secure room in the house,” says Mandy.
also made sure to take the most important items, legal papers and
photographs, with them, in case the Category 1 storm somehow became a
out to be a very smart move.
and the children stayed with relatives on higher ground in Avon the day
and night of Irene, while Jamie stayed at the house, with the plan to
move over to the house of non-resident owner Bruce Kitchens during the
storm. That three-story house, right across the street from the Fuller
home, was the perfect vantage point to keep an eye on the property and
take action as needed.
had called Kitchens the night before to let him know that they had
moved his truck, secured the home as best as they could, and made an
off-handed comment to the effect of “In case we get water in the house,
we might have to stay at your house for a while.”
‘By all means. Don’t call, just move right in,’” says Mandy. “And we
took him at his word.”
water came up -- and fast -- and it went gushing into the house in
waves. Heartbreakingly, Jamie had to open the doors to allow the water
to enter the home, so it did not float. The old houses in the
village are not moored to their pilings and easily float if you don’t
let the water in somehow. Jamie made mad dashes
forth from his neighbor’s to his own home, and as a consequence, soaked
his cell phone, so Mandy, who was not too far away, had no means of
contacting him or finding out if Jamie or their home had survived.
lost contact with Jamie at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 27, the evening of Irene,
and had to wait out the night with their children to hear what happened.
got as high as 34 inches inside the house, and surged a good 5 feet
“It was as
high as my eyebrows,” says Mandy, judging by the exterior flood lines.
came, and Jamie came to get his wife and take her to their home, while
the kids stayed with their grandmother.
thing I said was ‘How bad is it?’” says Mandy, “And he said, ‘Just get
in the car.’”
was an ominous response and a long ride home, and Mandy prepared for
the worst, but when she got there, as bad as it was, she was surprised
to find that people were already there, just hours after the storm had
passed, moving out flooded belongings.
friend Stash and other people were there moving out furniture and
ripping out the floor,” says Mandy. “People just came by and said ‘What
can we do? Our house is bad, but yours is worse, so what can we do?’
and as a result of that response, we didn’t get mold.”
for them. Everything was sprayed out, swept out and mucked out by the
first day,” she added.
not long after the initial clean-up, a new group showed up to lend a
hand -- the U.S. Coast Guard volunteers, who moved the old furniture,
appliances, and random storm debris that had washed up in their yard.
“They swarmed around the yard like bees,” says Mandy, “and 30 minutes
later, everything [in the yard] was cleaned up.”
the community, the Fullers had dodged the mold bullet.
the hard work of their friends, they had inevitably suffered their
share of damage.
the appliances were gone. All of the furniture, even placed on top of
the sawhorses to keep them from flooding, was jostled from the rushing
floodwaters and had gotten soaked. Mandy had carefully taken most all
of the toys with them for Jack and Grace, but one box that was left
behind was ruined.
put everything up as high as we could, but because of the fast waters,
furniture was toppled, toys, shoes, clothes, -- just mine for some
reason -- crib, beds, kids’ dressers were destroyed. We also lost all
flooring and a few walls and all appliances and cabinets,” says Mandy.
majority of sentimental treasures were preserved, having been removed
from the house. But there were some casualties there as well.
lost my grandfather’s globe, which was made in the 1940s or ‘50s. It
was made of paper and it got wet,” says Mandy. “I also didn’t take my
jewelry box, which included Gracie’s hair from her first haircut. It
was in an envelope [in the jewelry box] and it got carried away with
could have been a lot worse,” she adds. “Other people did a lot worse
than we did.”
the mess of cleaning up, and without power or food since all of their
food was ruined by the storm, including a month’s worth of meals in a
second freezer, the Fullers tried to figure out what to do next.
took Bruce Kitchens at his word, and moved into his house, after
spending a day or two with relatives so Mandy could get the home ready
for their children.
carefully moved all the kids’ toys, clothes, and even the socket plugs
next door, and spent a day “baby-proofing” the home. With the crib
mattress for Jack soaked in the storm, their friend Jennifer Harmon
gave them a mattress the day after Irene that her child had just
neighbor’s home was ready, and the family moved in, but there was still
the issue of having something to eat.
worst part at that point was all the food. You get so used to going to
the freezer for something, and you don’t think about the expense of
food until you lose everything,” says Mandy.
family went to the Avon Volunteer Fire Department where, just hours
after Irene passed, the “Gaskins Crew,” the local Gaskins family that
had experienced damage as well, was serving breakfast, lunch, and
dinner to everyone who came by.
Gaskins Crew had hot meals the day after the storm, which blew my mind.
I was still processing what was happening,” says Mandy. “Our community
impressed me, over and over and over again.”
transition to their neighbor’s home was seamless and was also a relief.
Since it was so close to their home, they could check on the progress
of the repairs and the children didn’t feel displaced.
the days and weeks after the hurricane, Jack became a bit clingy, to
the point that the 35-pound toddler had to be carried on a regular
“At least I
lost some weight after Irene, probably because of Jack,” says Mandy.
just a stone’s throw from her home and with the bulk of her toys and
her family close at hand, did just fine, and even greeted the Salvation
Army and other volunteers who showed up in Avon days after the storm.
became a bit of a ‘goodwill ambassador’ at the fire station,” says
Mandy. “She would say hello to everyone, and she had her favorites.
Everyone loved to see her.”
days turned into weeks. Disasters like Irene can’t simply be cleaned up
and quickly remedied, and Mandy kept Grace from her old home as long as
she could. When she finally brought her there, deep into the
re-restoration process, Grace was once again fine.
finally took her over there two weeks ago, and she was like ‘Oh. Okay.’
because she remembers the renovation process, and some of the stuff
looks normal. Especially if you’re 4,” says Mandy.
been almost three months, and while on the surface things look normal
again for the Fullers, there is still a lot of work to do.
are displaced, after all – just like three other people at Mandy’s
company - and they haven’t been able to be living normally at “home”
expenses to get back to normal can be crippling. The Fullers have found
help when they can, including FEMA, which gave them some money towards
FEMA gave us is generous, but it is not going to cover fixing, let
alone replacing everything,” says Mandy. “But FEMA helped, thank God,
and were there right away, and have been keeping up with us ever since,
and we are grateful for every penny FEMA has helped us with.”
Fullers have also been amazed with the amount of hand-me-downs that
have been presented to them since the storm, sometimes from people
they’ve never met.
we don’t know, but who know us, maybe from Jamie’s family, have come up
to us in Food Lion and said ‘We heard about you.. Do you need anything?
Is there anything we can do to help?’ It’s amazing. We just appreciate
everything that everyone is doing for us,” says Mandy.
whenever anyone says, “Do you need a table for your home? I have one,”
they reply with an enthusiastic “Yes.”
now becomes when they can get home.
all these wonderful donations of furniture, but we’re not sure where to
keep it until we can go home,” says Mandy.
house, after all, is a work in progress. Jamie has been going there
after work to do renovations, and is able to walk across the street for
dinner and then walk back over to work some more, thanks to their
neighbor’s kindness of letting them move in for a while.
is still so much to do.
house is going to be raised on tall pilings soon, which will be paid
for out of the family’s own pocket. Ironically, the home was
the Dare County list for more than 18 months to be raised before the
storm, but because of the number of requests and labor involved, it
hadn’t quite reached the top of the list yet. FEMA has
money toward raising houses post-Irene, but, although the Fullers have
been on the list for almost two years, it could have been another three
years before the house was raised. Mandy and Jamie,
understandably, are not willing to wait out another three years of
hurricane seasons before the raising begins.
the big questions still looms. And it’s the same question hovering over
dozens of families in Avon, Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo who are
displaced and surviving on accommodations for the off-season, but
desperately want to get back to normal.
What is in
store for months from now?
comes back in May, so we have to be out by April,” explains Mandy.
“This means long nights of work for Jamie... But we can’t
back until it’s done, because you don’t want two small children around
sawdust and hammering.”
really worries me is that we will need stuff in April, when we move in,
and storage is so expensive,” says Mandy, “and I’m worried people will
forget about us by April.”
ongoing question and concern that’s not going to go away anytime soon.
the Fullers are also a typical Hatteras Island family in that they look
on the bright side, remain unwaveringly grateful to their friends and
neighbors, and they keep emphasizing that, no matter what, “It could
have been a lot worse.”
community is amazing. I don’t know where we would be without our
friends and neighbors, and I honestly can’t thank them enough,” says
Mandy. “And the poor people in Rodanthe [tri-villages], I can’t even
imagine. They are living with so much worse.”
it up to community assistance, or perseverance, or just an
old-fashioned Kinnakeet hardiness, but rest assured that this typical
Hatteras Island family, the Fullers, will work through the hand they’ve
been dealt, and will be fine in the long run.
as a result, it’s a safe bet that by next summer, the Fuller placard
will be posted on their own 110-year-old Avon home, welcoming friends
this article was written, the Fullers found out that they have to
vacate the borrowed house in which they are living by Christmas. As
such, they are in immediate need of a home to stay from Christmas until
April. If anyone can provide lodging or information, please contact
Mandy at [email protected].