Waterlogged and waiting for hope

By Jonny Morales

I was looking at family photos, baby clothes, diplomas and other waterlogged possessions while waiting for teary-eyed homeowners to give me permission to throw them away. Forever.

We were only 10 miles away from my home, so damaged by Hurricane Florence, that I would not be able to live in it for another 3 months.

As the storm closed in, I can remember my mom saying “Vamos. We’re leaving.” Chicago was our destination — the only city we had family in. We packed up our belongings and prayed. That same Tuesday morning Hurricane Florence was in route, aiming to hit just south of Wilmington, members from my church gathered to pray for our beautiful beach town and everyone who calls it home.

Smiling teen in a gray t-shirt with the word leader
Jonny Morales, shares his Hurricane Florence experience with other teens at a NC Health News-Working Narratives workshop. Photo credit: Brett Chambers

Immediately after, we traveled more than 1,000 miles seeking safety from the hurricane.

Yet, the storm was still inescapable

We were sitting in a pizza shop in the heart of the Windy City, and as I looked up to the walls filled with televisions, I found myself watching my hometown, Wilmington, North Carolina, on the news getting lashed by Florence.

Our eyes were glued to the media, waiting for the moment roads would open so that Wilmington would no longer be an island, cut off from the rest of the world. Days went by after the storm passed before flood waters receded enough for us to get back in.

As we traveled back, we anxiously waited to see how our home fared.

We finally arrived home at 9 p.m. with only enough light from the car’s headlights to see that our mobile home was still standing. My parents told me and my sister to wait in the car while they investigated the inside of the house.

Several dozen people in orange T-shirts hold hands in a prayer circle
Jonny Morales works with a Samaritan’s Purse group to help New Hanover County residents recover after Hurricane Florence. Photo courtesy: Samaritan’s Purse

“Mold,” my dad said when he returned. Mold had taken over our home. Masses of water leaked in through the roof, down half the walls of our home and seeped through the floors. We could not stay there. I phoned a friend. On the other end of the call, I found relief. He welcomed me into his home with open arms. It all happened so fast.

Very quickly, the fear that could have controlled my life was shut down by the encouragement I received from people who cared for me. The label “victim” of Hurricane Florence would no longer define me. Fear of the unknown transformed into hope for recovery.

I spent the next few weeks volunteering with members from my church through an organization called “Samaritan’s Purse” to aid in home restoration. Homes were in major need of debris removal, mud-outs and roof tarping.

I was provided a dust mask and gloves, and we spent hours picking up misplaced belongings that were strewn about by the flooding. We took turns walking up to the homeowners, and waited patiently for them to decide whether the items were worth keeping or impossible to preserve. I couldn’t help but notice that the homeowners seemed waterlogged themselves by tears they held back. Once they decided it was time to let go, we would walk the belongings over to 8-foot piles of debris piled all along the roads of the neighborhood.

Once we were done, we prayed for the families we helped.

At the end of the day, the most memorable thing was the smiles glowing from the faces of everyone who had spent time getting to know each other. Residents of these neighborhoods held onto the fact that we were all in this together, regardless of our differences. As a community. As a family.

I even forgot that I had a home that still needed fixing. We all found hope in knowing that as we built relationships with each other, our community got stronger.

shows a group of people posing for the camera, the people in front hold a sign reading: Coastal Youth Media
Participants in the NC Health News/ Coastal Youth Media Speak Your Piece workshop in September. Front row (L to R) Franchon Francees, Jonny Morales, Karissa Sowers, Shecoria Smith, Julia Narvaez, Charlize Bryan. Back (L to R): NC Health News board member Brett Chambers, Rose Hoban, Abel Zukerman, Shamyia Robinson, Anne Blythe, Erica O’Brien

A lesson in resilience

By Shamyia Robinson

I’d never been truly influenced by fear until the morning the hurricane hit.

It was 9 p.m. when my mom, little brother and I settled down on the couches, all of us watching the news about the catastrophic damage and storm surges that would come with Hurricane Florence. The Weather Channel was all that we had been playing on our TV all day.

I was lying on the loveseat with my fuzzy blanket and neck pillow, not comfortable at all, because of the cramped leg space. Every time a hurricane comes the power goes out at my house so I figured I would wait until that happened to walk upstairs and try to fall asleep.

While the wind slowly picked up and the rain still sounded relaxing, I slept peacefully thinking the storm was going to be a breeze like the many hurricanes I had already lived through.

I wasn’t scared at all. At least not then.

Young woman working at a laptop covered with stickers
Shamyia Robinson works on her storm story during a NC Health News and Working Narratives workshop. Photo credit: Brett Chambers

At six the next morning I awoke to the loud wind gusts brought by Florence, shaking the house like mini earthquakes. Along with this came a minor feeling of queasiness, making me not want to move a muscle in fear that the contents of my stomach would find their way out.

I had experienced something like this plenty of times before, on mornings of volleyball tournaments, and I never knew exactly why. But this time it was 10 times worse. It was not only nausea but also dizziness. It lasted for five days, the same amount of time we didn’t have electricity.

I didn’t realize this until almost a year later, but that unsettling feeling was caused by anxiety and fear.

My mom, a hairstylist who hears a lot of people’s problems, helped me figure this out as we drove to school every morning. I also looked it up on my own through a handful of Google searches.

It wasn’t just me not feeling well for no reason. What I learned about myself is that fear can affect me in many different ways, not just the usual rapid heart rate that comes and goes.

For me, I became less patient and didn’t want to hang out with friends or family members with whom I normally would spend lots of time.

Instead, I was in my room with colored pencils and my favorite comic coloring book. I would have been on my phone but I had to conserve battery power because I couldn’t charge it with the power out.

Even today that fear comes and goes. It may not be as strong, but tornado warnings and more hurricane threats can trigger that same feeling.

Now I am more aware of that feeling that hurricane Florence brought.

But I worry about how I’ll handle it if it comes back in full force.

I know I’ve found relief with my volleyball teammates. We lost most of our season last year because our school was closed and we didn’t see each other for two weeks.

How to handle the fear that united us last season is something that Coach Ellen is mixing in with our game strategies this season. ‘Don’t doubt your resilience’ was the subject of one pregame talk.

“Take a deep breath,” she tells us all the time.

And I try to do this. But now that I know what fear truly feels like, I have a better understanding of how I can react to it and lessen it.

A Cross Country Season Interrupted

By Abel Zukerman

Any high school athlete knows how much damage can be done by missing just one week of the season.

I run cross country at New Hanover High School, and when Hurricane Florence shut down the county schools for a month, the task of carrying on the season was a daunting one for my team.

It took a while for that realization to fully set in. I was actually pretty cool at first with school closing. It was fall, and the work was pretty hectic.

Don’t get me wrong, I usually hate to miss school, but at the time a break for a couple days seemed all right to me. Then the hurricane hit. Power went out. Trees came down. Roads and facilities were flooded, and the time we were out of school drew on. A few days of missing practice became a week.

Three young people work at laptop computers. They look pretty intent!
Charlize Bryan, Abel Zukerman and Jonny Morales work on their essays during the NC Health News/ Coastal Youth Media workshop in Wilmington in September. Photo credit: Brett Chambers

I began to think more and more about the possibility of our cross country season breaking down right in the middle. I tried to get out once the wind and rain had died down to keep from getting out of shape, running by myself along streets full of tree limbs and downed power lines. But it was difficult to stay consistent in solitude.

About a week into the break, we started to hold practices at Wrightsville Beach in conjunction with a few nearby schools. We got back into the hard workouts as soon as possible to minimize disruption, and soon we were running two workouts a week and doing our best to get in easy runs on the off days.

We went on like this for a couple of  weeks, and as soon as school opened again we headed out to Greenville for the annual Bo Run Invitational.

We didn’t have a bus, so we met before five in the morning and arranged for seniors on the team and parents to drive the team to Greenville. When we arrived and started to warm up, the feeling of preparing for a race had become so distant that it felt as though it was the season opener all over again.

We stretched walked the course, and did our usual jog. We were glad to see faces from other teams we hadn’t seen in ages. As we lined up along the starting line, the race announcer gave us a shout-out for coming after the turmoil we’d suffered back home. The rest of the teams there gave us a standing ovation.

Then we took off. We still had that strange feeling of starting the season over again. None of us finished with great times, but we were in pretty good shape for the situation. We kept a positive outlook on the rest of the season.

Our season performance wasn’t really affected locally, and we finished second at both county and conference. However, we were slowed down at regional. We were slotted to finish second and only came in close to sixth.

While I can’t argue that our season was unaffected by Hurricane Florence, we did make an impressive effort to come back from the disruption with a competitive post-season and a trip to the state meet. We may not have had the dominant season we’d hoped for, but we tested our perseverance and teamwork and forged bonds of cooperation with the community.

While my cross country team did have to make a massive effort to carry on with our season, many other sports teams had to deal with similar problems. The New Hanover High School football, boys’ soccer and girls’ tennis teams were just a few whose seasons were flipped on their sides by the hurricane’s devastation.

The problem extended far beyond New Hanover County, as Florence wreaked havoc on sports teams throughout the southeast, ranging all the way from middle school to professional. In college football alone, fifteen different games were affected by the storm. In Major League Baseball, nineteen games were affected, eleven of which had playoff implications. On the whole, thousands of athletes had to undergo the same rebuilding process as my cross country teammates. The devastating impact of Hurricane Florence and other natural disasters on sports cannot be overstated.

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One reply on “Youth voices from North Carolina’s hurricanes – Part 1”

  1. It’s so very important–and quite rare– to hear from the young people impacted by these coastal hurricanes. All too often their experiences have been reduced to numbers: # of houses in need of repair, # of school days missed, # homeless, $ to repair, $ to relocate, $ to rebuild, $ of aid provided, $ of aid needed, etc. Yet those numbers tell only a fraction of the story of the hurricane. It is only in the strength, the courage, the optimism, and the humanity of these young people that we can begin to understand the impact of a natural disaster.

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