Rachel O’Neal gets lunches from the Ocracoke Strong Kitchen in the Community Center. Photo: C. Leinbach

United Methodists Committee on Relief has brought a do-it-yourself laundry trailer for Ocracoke Islanders. See below.

By Connie Leinbach

Since Hurricane Dorian flooded her Lighthouse Road home, like other islanders some of Rachel O’Neal’s days are good and others are bad.

On the bad days, she’s had panic attacks contemplating the future, she explained on Tuesday while picking up a free lunch of grilled chicken prepared by the Hope Mennonite Church of Pantego.

“I’ve had days where I’ve just cried all day,” she said. “It’s like, where’s the money gonna come from?”

Rachel O’Neal’s home is in the midst of a rebuild. Photo: C. Leinbach

Her ready smile belied any hint of panic, however, as she recounted her ordeal.

A single mother, she doesn’t have flood insurance since she has a private mortgage on her 1950-built house.

“It never had water,” she said, but the Hurricane Dorian storm surge changed all that when it pushed 18 to 24 inches inside.

She shows videos on her smart phone of her son, Austin, and dog inside her house in the water on Sept. 6, the day Dorian hit. She had to restrain her son from frolicking in the flood water.

“He asked me, ‘Mom, can I do a cannonball off the front porch?’”

Although she nixed that idea, she herself swam into the shoulder-high water into the middle of Lighthouse Road to retrieve her kayak—in case she needed it.

“Then my dog swam out to get me,” she said.

The threesome has temporary shelter in a room above a friend’s garage. There she has a mini fridge and a microwave and is making do, having relied on the three daily meals supplied by the recently departed Baptists on Mission.

“When I saw that, I said, ‘Don’t go. We need you,’” she said. 

She and other islanders in the same situation–especially those who still don’t have electricity because their meters were pulled–are relying on the continued “Ocracoke Strong” free meal kitchen in the Community Center.

“As long as Austin is fed, I’m OK,” O’Neal said.

Her temporary quarters don’t have a laundry. Since the Baptists on Mission, who set up portable laundry and showers behind Jerniman’s Campground, left Oct 13, O’Neal asks friends or her parents for help in washing clothes. 

But, as of today (Thursday, Oct. 31), she and other islanders who don’t have laundry facilities will have a free, do-it-yourself laundry trailer at the United Methodists Committee On Relief (UMCOR) camp at the United Methodist Church grounds on School Road. (Bring your own detergent.)

The UMCOR do-it-yourself laundry truck will be open Oct. 31 and will be open 24/7 for islanders. Photo: C. Leinbach

It will be open 24/7, said Twig Rollins, the UMCOR coordinator on the island.

O’Neal has seen progress to her home. It has been mucked out, the floors and walls cut out and it is being rebuilt by a local contractor.

“We’ll be back in by December,” she said.

All over Ocracoke Island, people relate variations on this scenario.

Now, since most of the muck-out and mold remediation was done in the days right after the storm, rebuilding has begun.

Some of that work is by private contractors but much of it will be done by volunteers with UMCOR or other interfaith groups who want to help and who are being organized by Darlene Styron, the Voluntary Organizations Assisting in Disasters coordinator.

“I’m trying every avenue I can for people to get help,” Styron said while also waiting in line for the chicken lunch.

The home of Bill and Alda Vann Gaskill was one of the first to be tackled by UMCOR volunteers.

UMCOR volunteers install flooring in the home of Bill and Alda Vann Gaskill. Photo: C. Leinbach

Their home, on Irvin Garrish Highway, was also one of those that had “never gotten water,” Bill said.

The flood moved things that shouldn’t have moved and didn’t move things that should have moved.

“I had a five-gallon gas can outside that the water didn’t move,” he said, “but a 150-pound steel door washed up onto my porch.”

While dozens of islanders were rescued by locals in boats, Bill and his wife stayed in their house as the water came in.

When he saw it going down shortly thereafter, he knew he’d be OK.

Tim Fields stood outside the Middle Road home he shares with Cindy Fiore. The home and Fiore’s massage studio were about 20 feet in the air.

That’s not the final height, but that height allows room for the eight-foot pilings to be installed. Then the house will be lowered, electric and plumbing reconnected. Its final resting height will be about eight feet off the ground.

A few other buildings are flying high in the air awaiting permanent pilings on which they can rest, and more buildings will be raised in the coming months.

A problem is getting enough workers for all the buildings that need to be rebuilt, said Justin LeBlanc, whose wife, Joelle, owns Ocracoke Coffee.

Getting materials and construction crews to the island is a big challenge.

“I’m using friends and family,” he said.

Bella Fiore, a shop on Back Road, should be ready to open this week, said owner Sarah Fiore (daughter of Cindy Fiore). She and her husband Brad Yeatman had prepped for Matthew-height water, but the shop still got three to five inches inside.

Since the shop floor was just sub floor, they hosed it off and replaced about three feet of drywall all around the inside.

In addition to a few restaurants open with limited hours, Fiore and Books to be Red owner Leslie Lanier are among a group of island businesses conducting business online while Ocracoke Island is still closed to visitors.

Lanier salvaged her inventory into two storage trailers in her School Road yard. She has been fulfilling special orders for both on- and off-islanders, she said.

Leslie Lanier, owner of Books to be Red, sends merchandise to online patrons. Matt Tolson, postal service clerk, is at right.. Photo: C. Leinbach

“I’ve been finding particular things and putting them on Facebook,” she said as she looked through the bins inside one of the trailers.

On Wednesday mornings, she reads books to the under Pre-K crowd of about five or six children at the Life Saving Church.

“It’s gotten these kids together and their moms,” she said, noting that one generous Facebook friend sent her money to buy a set of books for the reading group.

Since her shop, a historic house, does not have insulation, her hurricane repairs don’t involve new floors, she said, but she has gotten new electrical wiring.

While her building may or may not reopen by the end of this year, she’s not averse to selling merchandise on tables outside, should the mandatory evacuation be lifted soon.

This is a hallmark of creative islanders doing whatever they can to get back in business as soon as they can. However, that reopen date is still unknown, according to county officials at the Ocracoke Civic & Business Association (OCBA) meeting, attended by about 90 people, Wednesday night in the Community Center.

The commissioners will discuss it at their monthly meeting Monday, Nov. 4, but one of the benchmarks to opening is for N.C. 12 at the north end of the island to be repaired, which isn’t expected to be completed until around Nov. 22. Another OCBA meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Nov. 13 in the Community Center.

In the meantime, many local businesses are getting back to work via online sales. Below are several links, courtesy of visitocracokenc.com to the variety of innkeepers, shop owners, restaurateurs, charter fishing boat captains and more from whom Ocracoke friends can purchase items or gift certificates as a way to aid in the island’s recovery.

Bella Fiore

Books to be Red

Down Creek Gallery

Eduardo’s of Ocracoke

Edwards of Ocracoke
Contact info@edwardsofocracoke.com to purchase gift certificates for cottage rentals.

Island Artworks

Karen Rhodes – Trixies Fineries

Over the Moon


Teach’s Hole Blackbeard Exhibit

The Sunglass Shop on Ocracoke

Tradewinds Tackle

The Sunglass Shop on Ocracoke

Zillie’s Island Pantry

UMCOR volunteers work on Chester Lynn’s house on Back Road. Photo: C. Leinbach
The home of Tim Fields and Cindy Fiore on Middle Road is one of many on Ocracoke that are or will be raised following Hurricane Dorian damage. Photo: C. Leinbach
Although Books to be Red is closed for repairs owner Leslie Lanier is keeping her business going via online sales. Photo: C. Leinbach
UP IN THE AIR. The Ocracoke Harbor Inn office is getting raised. Photo: C. Leinbach

This story was corrected from an earlier published version in which Bill and Alda Gaskill were misidentified as Garrish.

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