NEW BERN N.C. (BP) – When 89-year-old William Cunniff returned to his flood-damaged home in North Carolina he found mold climbing the walls of every room the remains of Hurricane Florence. Cunniff had evacuated and stayed out of the state with relatives until it was safe to return.
The widower and U.S. Marine Corps veteran found that his home of 20 years in New Bern's Fairfield Harbour community had taken on more than a foot of floodwater just as many other homes had in his neighborhood. Cunniff is staying with his next-door neighbor whose garage took on less than a foot of water.
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers are helping Cunniff and many other survivors return to their homes and restore their lives. The job is a dirty one as volunteers tear out sheetrock pull up flooring and often help owners sort through flood-damaged items.
Many homeowners in the area lost almost all the contents of their homes. Damaged furniture appliances and personal effects lay in piles in front of homes along street after street.
North Carolina Baptists On Mission have been responding since Hurricane Florence hit in September operating out of Temple Baptist Church in New Bern. The site is one of several posts serving in the state in hard-hit areas along the coast from Wilmington and west to Lumberton. Hundreds of SBDR volunteers from multiple states have come to help.
SBDR volunteers have served 1.1 million meals to Hurricane Florence survivors. They have cleared downed trees and debris from more than 900 yards and completed more than 170 flood cleanup jobs in North and South Carolina.
Nearly 100 people have professed faith in Christ since SBDR volunteers began ministering to local communities.
New Bern site command leader Jimmy Lawrence of First Baptist Church Mayodan N.C. said the storm's damage across North Carolina has been devastating.
"The huge land mass affected and the potential for homelessness here may have an impact like nothing we've dealt with in North Carolina" Lawrence said.
Recovery operations volunteer Ed Coltrane of Colonial Baptist Church in Trinity N.C. said the site has taken 742 jobs with 340 completed. They are still taking requests every day with about 80 percent of the work asked for being mud-out and chainsaw work.
An eight-member team worked two days to help Cunniff with his home. They ripped up flooring and emptied rooms full of damaged furniture.
North Carolina Baptist Men volunteer Chuck Hale of Englewood Baptist Church Rocky Mount N.C. helped Cunniff find items that could be salvaged.
"It's his stuff and you have to respect that" Hale said. "I told him 'I am here to help you.'"
Cunniff said he was appreciative of the volunteers' work.
"I couldn't have found a better group of people. It's just like friends doing things for one another. That's the Christian attitude" he said.
Another volunteer group worked for six days on a complete tear out of the first floor and basement of a flood-damaged home in Trenton N.C.
The home of a Temple Baptist Church New Bern N.C. member took on three to four feet of floodwater when the Trent River overflowed its banks.
Six volunteers from Saddleback Church in Lake Forest Calif. worked alongside four volunteers from North Carolina.
Crystal Rose Alford of Saddleback Church said what she cherishes about serving is getting to interact with the homeowners.
"Our prayer and our hope is to get to love on the homeowner" Alford said. "Pieces of our hearts are left here in the home that we have worked on. It's an indelible mark."
Team leader Anthony Cooper of Wilson N.C. said the volunteers appreciate the New Bern community.
"We've been touched by a lot of the people here" Cooper said.
Senior pastor Jim Pennington and associate pastor Bennett Holloway of Temple Baptist Church thanked the volunteers for all their hard work for the community during a dinner that the church gave the volunteers.
"Seeing what you guys do words cannot express the appreciation we have for you" Holloway said.