Hurricane Florence Disaster Relief: North Carolina
In September 2018, Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina, bringing devastating floods over very large areas of the state. Many cities were deluged by rising flood waters, with some areas under 8 feet of water. Sai members of the Southeast Region moved into action to assist with local disaster relief efforts. Raleigh Sai Center members took part in Operation Airdrop at the Raleigh-Durham Airport, sorting supplies such as canned foods, water, and toiletries, which were then delivered to severely affected areas like New Bern, Lumberton, and Wilmington using private aircrafts that the owners had volunteered for this urgent purpose.
Raleigh Sai center members were also involved in several other relief efforts. They worked in collaboration with a Christian relief organization, Samaritan Purse which had the infrastructure, experience and resources needed to carry out immediate relief efforts On October 6th, seven volunteers from the Raleigh Sai Center left from Cary, NC at 4:15 a.m. for Wilmington, where they met at a church for an orientation by Samaritan Purse. Their first task was to remove two fallen trees. They cut the trees, removing all debris to the roadside. The second task was to fix a mobile home with a leaking roof. Volunteers covered the roof with a tarp to prevent further leaking. The third site they visited had multiple trees that had fallen and needed to be cut and the debris removed. They also fixed the damaged roof of a house by covering it with tarp. Another seven Raleigh Sai Center Young Adults from Cary, NC carpooled and drove 2 ½ hours to New Bern to sort out incoming hurricane relief supplies at the warehouse. On October 13, members of the Raleigh and Greensboro Sai Centers delivered a van full of relief supplies donated by Sai Center members to shelters at Delco and Fayetteville. They also drove to Wilmington and Fayetteville area to assess needs in order to reach out to the Regional and National teams for more resources and assistance if needed.
During the massive clean-up operation after the water receded, volunteers from Samaritan Purse worked in groups of 15, each under a team leader. Sai Center members who had been trained to be part of CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) worked alongside these volunteers during this clean-up phase. What follows is the moving experience of Gopal Somu, the Raleigh Sai Center Service Coordinator who was part of the Samaritan Purse clean-up operation.
“On September 22, we went to New Bern to clean up a home. The usual four hour drive to New Bern became an eleven hour drive due to flooding and road cutoffs. The lady of the house we were to clean had suffered grave tragedies, having lost both her brother and her husband recently. To make matters worse, her flood insurance had been cancelled 2 months before the hurricane. We had to completely gut the house to eliminate mold and moisture, which meant tearing and cutting out the inside walls and all the flooring. All that remained was the skeleton of the house. This had been the lady’s home for 22 years, and now she had lost everything! We worked steadily all day, maybe taking only a 15-minute water break during the day. The team leader would coax the team to take water and get some fresh air. Three volunteers worked in a tiny crawlspace in the dark taking out insulation, their bodies covered with muddy debris. They wore masks and had to take breaks to breathe in clean air.
Usually we prayed together at the start of work, and at the end, the team leader would present the homeowner with a Bible autographed by all the volunteers. At the end of this day, we came together in a group hug around the lady and said out aloud the Lord’s Prayer, asking God to bless her and keep her in His loving care. With heartfelt thanks, she said “This morning I had no hope. Then the Lord sent 16 angels and now, in the evening, I have hope. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.” Initially I had thought, “I am serving others.” But at the end of the day, I felt I myself had been served and was a recipient of God’s Grace. Initially, I had felt so fortunate and my heart was filled with so much gratitude that my family had not been personally impacted by the storm. Our home had been saved. But now hearing her words, it made me feel gratitude in a different way: “I am God’s instrument. I am so blessed. Please use me, Lord.”
When such natural calamities happen, so many areas are completely destroyed, and so many lives are devastated, that it takes a long time for life to return to normalcy. But helping our fellow being during such a devastating time, brings us together and awakens our realization that we are all connected, and in the end, we are intensely transformed by the experience, deepening our own humanity in the process of providing relief.”