Hurricane Matthew’s floods still devastate families
Storm damaged 1,400 properties
VIRGINIA BEACH | In the months since Hurricane Matthew, Dawn Sawyer has watched her 9-year-old, Sam, bite his nails down to “nubs.” She’s never seen him do that before. As Sam remembers it, he slept right through the storm. He knows the water was high that night, but he only worried about a swaying tree outside his bedroom window.
Ms. Sawyer recalls it differently. Sam woke up in the middle of the night when she did. They could hear yelling in their Windsor Woods neighborhood, and when they looked outside, they saw bobbing flashlights from people trying to wade out of their flooded homes.
The Sawyers stayed inside without power for a day before walking to a friend’s house. When they returned, Ms. Sawyer noticed Sam seemed nervous.
He doesn’t spend as much time downstairs, where the floor is still concrete and the smell of water damage and mold lingers. And Ms. Sawyer knows Sam has been waking up in the middle of the night to check on his mom and dad, as he did that a few years ago when she had cancer.
“I felt terrible,” Ms. Sawyer said. “We couldn’t reassure him that it can’t happen again because we don’t know.”
Six months after Hurricane Matthew swept through the area, destroying homes and upending lives, the Sawyers are one family among hundreds still trying to scrape together some shreds of normalcy.
Many live in one of the hardest-hit areas, Windsor Woods.
About 1,400 properties flooded in the storm, 250 of them in that neighborhood. Residents have criticized the city for its slow and limited response, angry that the rebuilding process has dragged on.
In a recent interview, Deputy City Manager Steve Cover said officials responded as fast as they could but are limited in what they can give homeowners to help. The city, he said, has funneled millions of dollars into recovery efforts by replacing city property, helping displaced residents and committing money to fix drainage problems.
But many people are falling short of what they need to finish all the renovations and get their lives back on track. And many think the city should help them with that.
The Sawyers’ house had flooding on the bottom floor. Ms. Sawyer and her husband, Chris, are still dealing with the insurance and mortgage paperwork to finish the repairs. The carpet has been ripped up and some of the walls replaced, but the family can’t find a contractor that will work within the requirements of their mortgage company to finish the job.
Sam doesn’t mind much that his house isn’t totally fixed yet. Compared to some of his friends, he said, he was lucky.
Most of his neighbors and friends are back home now. For a few months, the street was eerily empty.
“It was really weird,” he said. “No one else was around. It was pretty much a ghost town.”
Now, kids are playing in the street again next to industrial-sized dumpsters and storage pods.
“I think he’s OK,” Ms. Sawyer said. But, she added: “He won’t forget it.”