FEMA teams canvass neighborhoods hard-hit by Hurricane Florence

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Residents begin recovery process in northern New Hanover County

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Christina Bahrs watched Saturday morning as nearly everything she owned was stacked on her curb.

Cabinets, bikes, carpet, pictures, books — a houseful of things heaped in a pile, still dripping with the flood water that invaded her Northchase home during and after Hurricane Florence.

“I’ve lost everything,” she said. “It’s total damage on the bottom floor. Upstairs, we’re gonna have to take out the carpet and the walls will have to be cut four feet high, the assessor said.”

Bahrs said most of it is “just stuff” and can replaced. It’s the stuff that can’t that’s hit her hardest.

“I kept a journal of each of my kids from the day they were born until they were 18 with pictures,” she said. “It was destroyed.”

Walking the Bahrs’ street this particular morning were the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Survivor Assistance teams. They knock on doors in neighborhoods identified as the hardest hit by local officials to help residents register to begin the FEMA assistance process. On Saturday, Ron Winward and two other DSA members walked Belmont Circle, where Bahrs and neighbors dug through their belongings.

Teams had “FEMA” in big letters on their hats and vests, and residents immediately had questions for them, whether the residents had already begun the recovery process or not.

Winward was prepared with the answers. He started with FEMA after Hurricane Sandy and has worked 20 disasters since.

Just after 11 a.m., his team had already registered one family for FEMA assistance, provided an update for a couple without internet access whose son signed them up remotely, and spoke with people like Bahrs, who had already registered.

She wasn’t in town when Florence came through, but Bahrs said her neighbors who stuck around reported the water rose about three feet high, enough to topple the air conditioning unit outside her front window. Those neighbors had to be rescued by boat during the thick of the storm.

Members of Behrs’ Jehovah’s Witness congregation helped her sift through what she could save and what had to be tossed. From here, she will go back to her temporary residence in an RV offered to her by a friend.

“It’s their love and concern for me that makes me cry more than losing my stuff,” she said of her friends. “A lot of people don’t have that support.”

The sight of Bahrs’ life on her curb was echoed in nearly every yard on her street and every neighboring street in Northchase, as residents gutted their homes of water-damaged items.

The FEMA teams reassured residents that while the recovery process is going to be long, boots are already on the ground working.

“They are always happy to see someone from the federal government here,” he said. “They’ve heard about efforts on the news, but when they see it for themselves, I think it is comforting.”

Reporter Hunter Ingram can be reached at Hunter.Ingram@StarNewsOnline.com.