A year later, Pender County residents still struggling to rebuild after Hurricane Florence

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— One year ago, Hurricane Florence slammed into North Carolina and devastated parts of Pender County, including 3,000 homes that were damaged and thousands of residents were forced from their homes.

For many residents, the repairs are ongoing while some families continue to search for permanent housing.

At Sand Hill AME Church, members saw floodwaters intrude inside the building, and crews are still working to rebuild the sanctuary.

And 23 families that attend the church are still out of their homes, and they are all relying on volunteers to help them rebuild.

Pastor Justin Nick took over the Sand Hill AME Church in April 2019, seven months after Hurricane Florence devastated the church and the community around it.

“They are definitely a resilient people,” Nick said.

The Disaster Assistance Relief Team from Wilmington brings church volunteers together to help hurricane victims rebuild.

“It’s been beautiful to see them come out and have that little bit of community left,” said Emelie Myers, who is on the disaster relief team.

Volunteers helped the church repair its fellowship hall and now they are working on the sanctuary.

“It’s been a blessing to them to be able to have services and their meeting spot,” Myers said. “And (it) has been just that light that they needed.”

Gio Simpson co-chairs the Pender County Long-term Recovery Group, which was formed after Florence to help people rebuild.

“We took a real hit in Pender County,” Simpson said. “I would say the people who can’t get back into their homes are in the thousands.”

The residents could leave but people who call Pender County home are determined to stay as long as they continue to get help.

Said Simpson: “Our biggest need are volunteers.”

Nick said the community has a rich past that residents won’t abandon.

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“The amount of history that is here is something that we won’t ever leave behind,” he said.

Church officials say there is no timetable when the church will be fully rebuilt, but Nick said it’s not about the walls — it’s about the people and as long as they are there, there will be a church.