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The Riggs family weren’t home when a century-old tree fell through through roof during the hurricane
WILMINGTON — The family photos are stacked on the kitchen table. The Christmas ornaments are boxed away beside the front door. The manufacturer stickers are still stuck to new windows out front.
For the Riggs family, their home is a work in progress, but they are finally back in it for the first time since Hurricane Florence dropped a century-old oak tree in their kitchen in September 2018.
For nearly 15 months, Amy and Michael, and their son Mason, lived with two sets of family members, slept together in the same room for seven months, gutted their own home, coordinated an endless stream of contractors and watched nearly everything they owned tossed out.
But this Christmas, they are back under their own roof, and they could not be more grateful.
“It truly is the best Christmas present we could ask for,” Amy said last week while standing in the kitchen that was exposed to the elements for 10 days after the tree fell through the roof.
Luckily, the family was not home. Despite plenty of experience weathering hurricanes, she said something about Florence gave her pause.
“We’ve lived here our whole lives and we’d never left before,” she said. “But with this one, I felt uneasy. So we hit the road.”
The house they left behind was built in 1955 and first belonged to Amy’s grandmother, Granny Fannie, as she was lovingly nicknamed. After she died in 2009, Amy and Michael bought the house to keep it in the family and continue their own life in its familiar walls.
But after Florence, the roof was structurally unsafe and the family was forced to find shelter elsewhere.
For the first seven months, the three of them and their dog, Jasper, all stayed in a single room above the garage of a family member in Wilmington. During that time, Michael would wake up every morning and, instead of going to work, he would drive over to his own house and pull it apart piece by piece.
“We had to tear it down to the stubs and the subfloor,” Michael said. “Everything had to go. Personal belongings, furniture, everything.”
Amy added, “We filled up dumpsters full of our stuff. I lost count at 7 dumpsters.”
The tree was eventually removed for free by Tree Guardians after they stopped at a local lemonade stand raising money for the Riggs and other families.
From there, the family went through all the motions of securing contractors to get their home rebuilt, which didn’t start until last November.
A year later, they were finally given back the keys to their kingdom, the first real sense of stability they’ve felt since the hurricane
“It’s like everything is finally coming back into rhythm,” Michael said. “There’s some semblance of normalcy.”
Even though Christmas in their own home will be a generous and long-awaited gift, the Riggses have seen the generosity of their friends and neighbors year round.
They have been given checks, a refrigerator and furniture. One day, they came home to find drywall and insulation on their front lawn and still don’t know the Secret Santa who dropped it off.
They’ve been given so much support that they’ve started giving things to other families in need to pay it forward.
The upheaval has come with its blessings too. They got closer with the family that took them in, they got to to see how helpful their community can be and Amy got a dishwasher, which she’s never had before.
“Before that thing, the dishwasher was right here,” Michael said, holding up his hands.
They’ve also taken the time to be grateful their Florence detour is coming to an end. In the kitchen where her grandmother spent so much time cooking for her family, especially at Christmas, and where a tree shattered their world, they have hung a sign that reads, “Gather with a Grateful Heart.”
“We felt it just fit because we all have a grateful heart and are gathering because grandma started that tradition,” Amy said. “We’re just updating the home she made.”
Although they will spend Christmas Day in their home, the Riggs aren’t putting up a Christmas tree. Instead, they are putting away their belongings, hanging up their pictures and finally settling back into their lives.
But Amy is already collecting ornaments and signs for this time in 2020.
“Next year, we will do it up big,” she said. “It will be like The Griswolds around here.”
Reporter Hunter Ingram can be reached at 910-343-2327 or Hunter.Ingram@StarNewsOnline.com.