Hurricane Matthew & Cape Hatteras United Methodist Men by Diane Lea

In the days and weeks after October 9, 2016, the day that Hurricane Matthew struck Hatteras Island, the drive down Highway 12 offered a shocking look at the face of disaster.  Piles of furnishings, appliances, toys and water-soaked debris lined the sides of the highway.  The first thought that occurred was “What is left for the people who lost all this?”  The answer in many cases was “Not much.”

That’s when the resourcefulness of our Islanders became most apparent.  Not only were neighbors helping neighbors and families crowding together in their remaining habitable houses, but a well organized response effort was soon underway.  Much of that response was home-grown and spearheaded by the Cape Hatteras United Methodist Men (CHUMM) Emergency Assistance, a 38 year-old organization of about 60 hardy souls, and Mary Ellon Balance, the president of the Ladies Auxiliary of Hatteras Village Fire Department.  Dennis Carroll, Director of the CHUMM, notes that much of the group’s success is based on its ability to coordinate effectively with other agencies providing assistance.  In addition to Dare County Social Services (DCSS), FEMA, Hatteras Village Ladies Auxiliary, and the Salvation Army, CHUMM works with the Interfaith Community Outreach (ICO) and other volunteers.  Carroll credits CHUMM’s strength to being here long term when everyone else has left, or, as he defines it “being the last resort.”

Being the last resort requires an enormous amount of sophisticated planning and execution.  For example, to ensure efficient distribution of material, insurance-related and financial resources following the disaster of Matthew, CHUMM and other agencies used a common spreadsheet prepared by Ashley Jackson of DCSS that tracked each family or individual who needed assistance.  “We started with 200-plus families on the assistance list and we’re now down to 23,” says Carroll.  The spreadsheet avoided duplication of efforts and allowed the team to allocate a volunteer sponsor to each person or family on the spreadsheet.  According to Carroll, the volunteers were able to help distribute what was needed more quickly and more of it.  Carroll concludes, “We made sure that everyone had shelter, heat and food.”

The stories of Matthew’s survivors reflect the Island residents’ history of self-sufficiency and independence. Often, those assisting in cleaning up and rebuilding would learn that one of the people working by their side needed just as much help as those they were assisting.  It seems that Islanders, especially the older generation, have a hard time asking for help.  Their first response is that there are others who need help more.

Among those who found just the right help was an 87 year-old waterman who was found in his home in waist deep water holding his cat.  A neighbor on a surfboard offered to help him get out, but the waterman suggested that rather than a surfboard, the neighbor could bring a skiff tied up outside.  He did and the gentleman and his cat made it to Highway 12 where a “high wheeler” took them to a shelter. His only request then was for a sweater.  Over time his neighbors also identified his need for a refrigerator and a sofa where he could sit with his cat.

The devastation wrought by Matthew and the human needs it created extended for months.  Carroll estimates that CHUMM expected to be working for at least a year after such a disaster.  Two months after the storm, many Islanders were faced with a desolate Christmas.  One such family, headed by a carpenter who had lost his tools, was assisted by the Manteo Rotary Club.  Not only did the club provide a gift certificate to replace the tools, but the family’s children were also given Christmas gifts.

The storm victims on Hatteras Island included roughly 90 children, and every one of them was named on the community Angel Tree.  With help from CHUMM and the ICO, each child received an envelope containing $50.  Though people sometimes shy away from what they perceive as burdensome bureaucracy, CHUMM and the ICO found ways to fund appropriate help with available government funds.  When a workman lost the carpentry tools he needed to work and to repair his own home, the two groups helped buy him materials and assigned him a labor allowance to work on his home.

Carroll is adamant about the need for interagency cooperation and urges people with needs to approach DCSS first and continue to do so even after the storm damage seems diminished.  “The DCSS can put people in touch with the group most likely to provide the particular help that is needed,” says Carroll.  That’s where some of CHUMM’s volunteers can do the most, by convincing people that there is no stigma attached to asking for help through DCSS.  Now, with 2017 well underway, the need for assistance to storm victims is still great.  What CHUMM most needs now is financial contributions. Their mailing address is Cape Hatteras United Methodist Men, P.O.Box 1591, Buxton, NC 27920.

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