Small and efficient, FEMA trailers gave comfort to Hurricane Irene’s victims
By ANNE BOWERS
trailers were a lifeline to several families who were living like
nomads after Hurricane Irene, which slammed into the North Carolina
coast one year ago. Metal structures that measured only 12 feet
by 30 served as temporary homes for several families who crammed into
them over the winter while insurance claims were settled and homes were
repaired or rebuilt.
were 10 of the little trailers, which were delivered in early October
of last year, and stayed on the site at Midgett Campground in Rodanthe
until the end of May when the last one was removed. The trailers
are not safe in hurricanes and had to be removed by the start of the
tropical stpr, season on June 1.
was a blessing,” said Jean Hooper, 77, of Salvo who lived in one for
three months with her husband, Bert. “It had everything we needed
-- a full size refrigerator, stove, double sink and a table with four
Irene was the worst storm she has ever seen – worse than the storm of
1944, which was the benchmark for bad storms in the tri-village
area. The Hoopers had 14 inches of water in their home last
August, which destroyed much of what they owned.
was devastating,” Jean Hooper began. “We sat on the front porch
and watched our belongings go into the back of the trash truck.
We lost our hutch, table, bureaus, beds. We lost a lot of stuff but we
saved our home.”
house needed to be gutted to cut out the water damage, which can
quickly lead to mold. The paneled walls had to be removed
and the flooring was cut down to the sub floor.
their home made uninhabitable from the super-sized hurricane, the
couple lived in five different places before the FEMA trailer was
available. They stayed with two different neighbors who lived
nearby, with her brother, with a friend, and even at the Salvo
Motel. But the tiny little metal trailer that sat at the
campground behind Island Convenience in Rodanthe, gave them the privacy
of home. They lived there for about three months and Hooper
referred to their time there as “not that bad.”
Williams, 58, lived in Waves all her life. Like the Hoopers, the
house she had lived in for 32 years was severely damaged by storm
tide. It needed to be gutted to repair the extensive water
the storm, Judy and husband, Ronald, spent the first week with their
son in Frisco, but the family got a break when Food Lion, Judy’s
employer for the last 5 years, rented them a room at the Lighthouse
View Motel in Buxton.
Lion done me very well. They did a lot for a large corporation,” said
Williams, “and I am very thankful.” Food Lion also donated ice
and water to the community for weeks in two locations after the storm.
couple stayed in Buxton until November when the FEMA trailers became
available. With their daughter and their grandkids who also lost
everything in the hurricane, they got two trailers right next to each
other. They shared cooking. One trailer had a washing machine and the other had the clothes dryer.
trailer provided a very tight space. The door was located near
the center of the structure and upon entering, you either went straight
into the bathroom, left into a bedroom that was the size of a standard
bed or right into the kitchen with another tiny bedroom beyond
kitchen had a full-size refrigerator, an apartment-size stove, and a
tiny bit of counter with a kitchen sink. There was some room for
dry goods under the counter. It came equipped with four plates
and 4 forks, knives, and spoons set, plus a cheap set of pots and
pans. The kitchen table had two chairs and a love seat for
another two people that also pulled out into a twin bed, which is where
Judy slept. Being nice, she described the housing as “ideal for
one person.” No question, it was a tight living arrangement with
no place to put things.
lot fee was paid for by FEMA but the people living in the trailers had
to pay the electric bill, which was almost $400 monthly for both
places, according to Ronald Williams. There was no charge for the
use of the structure.
Williams family celebrated Christmas in this metal structure located on
a treeless lot that had lots of temporary trailers squeezed tightly
wasn’t a very good Christmas,” said Judy. “We tried to put up
some lights. Didn’t wrap the presents – just pulled them out of
the trunk of the car and gave them to everyone.”
Williams didn’t get their insurance money until November and were
struggling to meet the April 1 deadline when they were supposed to be
out of the FEMA trailer. They got $60,000 to fix their home,
which only covered the materials, no labor costs. This forced the
family to do most of the work themselves and to get help from friends
and volunteers like the North Carolina Baptist Men’s group.
“A lot of people chipped in and helped us. We would have been in trouble if they hadn’t,” said Ronald.
home, which had been stripped down to the studs, was like a new house
when they moved back into it this spring. It had new siding and
walls, windows, doors, flooring and decks. It stands a little
taller than it did and is now painted bright green – lime green with
last weeks in the little white trailer seemed like an eternity for this
family of six. Judy said, “I am ready to go home. I am
tired of camping.” That doesn’t mean she wasn’t grateful.
morning after the hurricane, I was devastated,” Judy remembers.
“You wake up and then you realize you have nothing. Lost
no one was hurt and their home could be rebuilt. With a little help from
their friends and family, their time living in a tin can wasn’t so bad.
Sitting back home in her old, almost new home, Jean Hooper looks back fondly at her time living at the campground.
FEMA trailer was great,” she begins, “but it feels wonderful to be back
home in my new home, sitting at my table, drinking coffee.”
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