all islanders know, Hurricane Matthew was a cruel natural disaster that
brought weeks of clean-up and a heavy emotional toll. I, myself, spent
more than a week cleaning and scrubbing our home and doing the same to
my boyfriend’s mother’s garage.
Immediately after the storm, I was fortunate enough to be able to take
a week’s absence from work to stay home and take care of our own
We had between 14 and 16 inches of water inside our house and the
garage had nearly 4 feet of saltwater inside. We saved as many of our
belongings as we could, and set-up a three-tub Rubbermaid station,
dunking our things in a solution of bleach, cleaner, and water, then
rinsing to let dry.
It has been a very emotional and trying time, especially knowing that
many others fared even worse. Our island had already experienced trauma
with Tropical Storm Hermine. Though we did not have damage to our home
during that particular storm, we both lost vehicles because of the
quick-rising tide from the Pamlico Sound. We were a bit more prepared
with Hurricane Matthew, but not prepared enough.
Not everything could be salvaged. As you can imagine, we had to discard
appliances, furniture, rugs, art, photographs, and more. As the
roadside pile in front of my boyfriend’s property grew, we soon had a
nearly empty garage and a pulled-apart home. In addition, we lost a
chicken and the majority of our ducks.
Constantly reminding ourselves that our stuff was just that— stuff, we
got to work with removing saltwater, sea grass, and a mucky mud mixture
from our home. Three Shop-Vac machines, a 50-foot water hose, several
American Red Cross clean-up kits, and gallons of Clorox later, we were
on our way to cleaning Matthew’s mess.
Anyone who has lived on Hatteras Island long enough to experience a
hurricane knows the drill -- place discarded appliances, natural
debris, and whatever belongings that have been damaged along the
roadside to be picked up and hauled off.
That’s right—discarded belongings. While our roadside pile was first a
mountain of substantial size, it has now dwindled down to a mere hill.
Countless cars have pulled along the property line and have rummaged
through our discarded belongings. We are pleased that another person
looked at our pile and thought, “I could use that,” or “I could fix
With that said, I also understand that this is not the thought process
of all other islanders. Instead of being thankful that their
once-prized and treasured things are going to be re-used or repurposed
versus being hauled off to a landfill, some are resentful and
incredibly angered by the idea that their trash would be used by
another person and be given a new “life.”
If asked, I would not be able to count how many beautiful solid-wood
pieces I have seen on the side of the road. These pieces, unlike many
of the particle board pieces we had in our own home that were
completely ruined by the water, only need to be washed and treated with
an antimicrobial cleaner. In some cases, a fresh coat of paint, or a
light sanding with some varnish can fix discarded pieces with
tide-lines or deeper damage.
As a native to Hatteras Island and an incredibly frugal person who has
spent many years working as a waitress and housekeeper, I have worked
incredibly hard for what I do have and I understand the value of a
dollar. It simply sickens me to think that some would discard their
things and not want them to be reused by anyone else.
As a person who composts, recycles, and makes my own laundry detergent,
the word wasteful is the best adjective that comes to mind in
describing this experience. On the flip side, I do understand that we
all are entitled to our own opinions and our own feelings. I also
understand that there are probably people within the community who are
taking advantage of the loss of others that this hurricane has brought.
Nevertheless, more than two weeks since the hurricane, these roadside
piles are waiting to be collected, tossed into large dumpsters, and
then hauled off to landfills. If your grandmother’s childhood solid oak
dresser could be scrubbed and re-used, would you rather someone else
give it new life, or would you want for it to be at the bottom of a
(Mariah James is a 25-year-old Hatteras Island native who lives in
Frisco. She works as a vacation rental housekeeper and also works
part-time at a building supply company. She says that she understands
what this community has gone through and is so proud of how islanders
pull together and help each other in adversity. With this said," she
adds, "I have some thoughts on the trash piles along the streets and
highway and those being scrutinized and condemned for trying to give
new life to things that would otherwise be tossed into a landfill.")