Hur­ri­cane Matthew’s floods still dev­as­tate fam­i­lies

Storm dam­aged 1,400 prop­er­ties

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY MECHELLE HANKERSON AND RYAN MURPHY

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.”

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