Thirteen years after Hurricane Isabel thrashed the Virginia Beach coast, Hurricane Matthew leaves the region a disaster once again.
The first Category 5 Atlantic hurricane in nearly a decade, Matthew’s effects in Virginia Beach were immediate and severe, leaving 1,600 tons of debris and up to 17 inches of flooding in especially prone residential areas.
Almost two weeks after the storm, the community has come together to recover and rebuild. Dozens of clean-up crews and volunteers are available for mucking and gutting services, food drives have been arranged through schools and local fire departments, and a recovery center at the Bow Creek Recreation Center, 3427 Club House Rd., offers affected residents clean showers, crisis counseling, and even temporary housing.
But taking a look back at those first critical days following the storm, some Virginia Beach residents have questioned why aid did not come sooner. For some in flooded areas, it took nearly a week for the city to offer support – something City Councilmember Shannon Kane highlighted during a council workshop on Tuesday.
“It took us six days to help these residents. We came very ill prepared and let them down,” said Kane, whose district was hit hard by the flooding. “I take this very seriously.”
Kane went on to detail her interactions with homeowners days after the storm.
“I talked to a family that had lost their home four times in the past six years because they’re in a horrible spot, and they’ve lost everything. Because of this, everyone in the neighborhood was asking them what to do, and it’s so sad that they knew step by step how to get back on track again.”
She continued: “I talked with Mrs. Walker who lived on Old Forge Road for 49 years. It’s not in the flood zone and she did not need flood insurance. She had it for 48 years, but she dropped it two months ago because this has never happened to her. And she’s lost everything. She’s a widow who has lost everything in her single-story house.”
Virginia Beach Director of Human Services Dannette Smith also acknowledged the hardships that have struck the region, but noted the sense of community that has emerged through the destruction, particularly at Bow Creek.
“This community that has really rallied around people who’ve experienced a misfortune,” she said. “And the residents who’ve experienced this kindness have a resilience. We’ve seen people come in here sad and leave here with at least a smile on their face.”
She went on to say she’s been overwhelmed by the dedication staff and volunteers have exhibited in this time of need.
“People want to give and participate and feel connected,” she said. “It’s the human factor. I’ve had people from the community just come up here and ask how can I volunteer – so I put them to work greeting residents, walking people down the hall, the whole nine yards. I’ve had to ask people to take lunch.”
Despite delays, Smith believes the city has done its best to begin to rebuild.
“Once people got past the initial shock shock of what happened, they mobilized quickly,” she said. “The most important thing is that we’ve activated and people have responded very well, both those who are giving and those who are receiving. We saw different departments coming together within hours of the call from our leadership, and I think that’s commendable.”
Cheryl Johnson of Windsor Woods, an affected resident who went to the Bow Creek center Wednesday, is pleased with the various recovery options the city has made available.
“We’re staying with my in-laws right now so we came to Bow Creek to find alternate housing,” she said. “Everyone was really friendly. I really appreciate the services we received here today.”
Still, Johnson is one of many homeowners temporarily displaced by the storm. Though her residence suffered 14 inches of floodwater, her situation is considered minor according to the city’s assessment of nearly 2,000 homes. The 107 Virginia Beach families who experienced major home damages have been provided hotel accommodations by the city.
While the Johnsons had flood insurance, they have been waitlisted until additional housing funds can be raised; she expects that her own home will be inhabitable sooner than most.
“My husband took some time off of work to do renovations and is hoping to get us back in to the house within a few weeks,” she said. “I just wish we had received better warning about the storm. One of my neighbors got an estimate that she won’t be back in to her house until after Christmas.”
Residents whose property has been damaged by the hurricane can call the city’s 311 line at 757-385-3111.