The first OIRRT/Hyde/CAM Reconstruction Project home, along Irvin Garrish Highway, is complete. Photo by Alicia Peel.

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By Connie Leinbach

While he is still completing finishing touches, after more than a year since Ocracoke’s most devastating storm, John Simpson is the first islander to move into a brand-new OIRRT/Hyde/CAM Reconstruction Project home.

Simpson, who moved in on Thursday to his home built by volunteers with the Christian Aid Ministries, feels humbled.

“It’s very much appreciated and more than I could ever wish for,” Simpson said in an interview.

Simpson’s house along Irvin Garrish Highway was among the several hundred buildings flooded when Hurricane Dorian inundated the island on Sept. 6, 2019. His home had to be demolished.

Since then, Simpson stayed with friends on the island, and about a year ago moved into a temporary trailer on his property to await his new home.

“Thank goodness for that too,” he said about the 35 trailers that Hyde County purchased for islanders to use while their homes were being rebuilt.

Christian Aid Ministries out of Berlin, Ohio, on Oct. 22 began building Simpson’s one-bedroom home thanks to a $850,000 grant that Hyde County obtained from the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management and is administered through Ocracoke Interfaith Relief & Recovery (OIRRT).

CAM, as it is known, is one of several Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOADs) that have aided Ocracoke on storm remediation and rebuild projects.

The groups of young men working on the island until sometime in March on various projects are volunteers with the Conservative Anabapists Service Program, which operates under CAM and provides alternative places of employment for conscientious objectors to serve should the U.S. government activate a military draft.

Simpson’s house is one of five “stick builds,” or from scratch, that the CAM volunteers are working on.

He was impressed with the CAM volunteers work ethic.

“They got there at the crack of dawn,” he said. “They eat a sandwich sitting down on the property, usually. And they didn’t stop for anything until it was dark.”

Currently the OIRRT has committed to five new builds and seven partial reconstructions.

An estimated 2,000-2,500 man-hours were dedicated to this project by multiple teams from CAM, said Alicia Peel, OIRRT administrative assistant, in a press release, adding that the project was completed with a 3.6% budget overage.

“However, given the rising price of lumber each project has been allotted a 5% budget contingency,” she said. “Given that addition, the project is considered to have run on budget.”

The rising price of lumber illustrates the difficult recovery timing for Ocracoke Island.

After the devastation of Hurricane Dorian, the community was further affected by the COVID-19 lockdown, which began in March and continued to mid-May.

“The pandemic not only impacted the number of volunteers who could safely access the island, but also our ability to order materials for as well as the overall cost of the reconstruction project,” she said.

According to New England Building Supply, since mid-April of 2020, lumber prices have risen by 130%, and those increased costs have raised the cost of single-family homes by more than $16,000 on average.

“Despite the challenges faced in reconstruction, we are incredibly grateful to have completed the first scratch-built home,” Peel said.

A second new-build in the joint OIRRT/Hyde/CAM Reconstruction Project is set to be completed in the next two weeks.

In addition, the global humanitarian organization Operation Blessing out of Virginia Beach has granted $104,893 to the OIRRT to be used for these reconstruction efforts.

Of the grant funds, $100,000 will be used towards reconstruction projects on homes and $4,893 will help build volunteer housing for those who come to serve.

“During our time on the island in 2019, the residents really captured our hearts,” said Anthony Lloyd, senior director of U.S. Disaster Relief for Operation Blessing, in a press release. “Today, Operation Blessing is thrilled to provide them with continued support through our partnership with Ocracoke Interfaith Relief & Recovery Team.”

Operation Blessing (OB) provides humanitarian services such as strategic disaster relief, medical aid, hunger relief, clean water and community development.

“We are so excited for our partnership with Operation Blessing and cannot express our gratitude enough,” Peel said. “Through this amazing gift, we will be able to help our community recover from Hurricane Dorian.”

The second ‘stick-built’ house by OIRRT, along Loop Road, is expected to be complete in about two weeks. Photo: C. Leinbach