When Havelock’s population braced themselves for Hurricane Florence – a major storm packing 90 mph winds back in September – they most likely knew there was a possibility of major damage. Havelock as a whole has rebounded well. However, the duration of the aftermath and reconstruction has proven slower than expected for some residents and businesses almost six months later.
Phyllis Littrell has lived in Havelock for 40 years and eventually moved to the Cherry Branch community with her late husband Will, a retired Marine Corps officer. After living in Havelock proper, they first purchased a house on Cherry Branch drive before finally buying a 7,000- square-foot residence near the end of the street overlooking the Neuse River in 2005.
As beautiful as the view might be, living on the water comes with its own set of weather-related risks. Littrell said she has been through rough storms in the past but Florence ripped off three-fourths of her roof and tossed it almost 200 feet into the woods adjacent to her property. Now, putting her house back together has been very slow and stressful.
“The first thing we did…we took all the old carpet out, the wet carpet and padding ourselves,” Littrell said. The house was very cold to live in before insulation was installed, she said; and, she didn’t really consider another place to stay while repair work was being done because of her two dogs Madi and Missy.
A local company is handling the repairs but a backlog of work and the extensive damage to the wood, drywall and carpet as well as the size of the home has slowed the process down. A pile of scrap sheetrock on her back lawn tells the tale and she worries about the dust that has settled everywhere.
“I guess the worst part is inconvenience as you can see. But also I’m still a little afraid that I am breathing in all this [dust]. It was a long time after they put up insulation that I got sheetrock. And now the sheetrock is so dusty. I don’t know how it can affect you,” Littrell said. She also doesn’t know when the repairs will be finished.
A walk down the beach that lines Cherry Branch’s waterfront properties revealed a sandscape littered with driftwood, erosion and badly damaged bulkheads.
When asked if she could see anything positive through this whole ordeal that affected so many lives in North Carolina she quickly replied, “I’m alive.”
Margaret Rockwell and her husband Michael evacuated to Greensboro only to find a pine tree had smashed through the roof of their east Havelock home when they returned. The cost to repair their home was $11,000 and began the first week of December. Aside from cleanup, Rockwell said although it was slow the work done to their residence is complete.
“[We] feel so disrupted from the whole process and here it is almost March,” she added.
Triangle Visions Optometry in Havelock, previously Desmone Family Eyecare, was hit particularly hard and is remaining open while repairs are still being made to the office. According to Dr. John Desmone the cost for completing the repairs may run at least $150,000.
"We had the rubber membrane roof (which was less than 10 years old and had been serviced one month prior to the storm) blown off, which allowed 30 inches of rain to pretty much ruin everything in a 1,400 square foot area that was the town’s original city hall. We have an attached 2,600 or so of square feet that was mostly intact that allowed us to get back to work after missing eight work days. We had our optical business and lab destroyed, but our eye examination equipment survived,” Desmone said.
The building itself dates back to the 50s, he said. Additionally it is going to cost $19,000 just to remove the rest of the damaged area and then the building will have to be updated to meet current city building codes. Desmone said he has been at the current location for 27 years. Improvements to the office will include changing the flat roof to a gabled one and opening up the floor plan. Desmone believes the building will be more functional, durable and better looking.
While Florence and its aftermath were awful the employees were taken care of according to Desmone.
“I was committed to our staff and our staff was committed to the business – we worked as a team the entire week after the storm cleaning up debris, drying off as much as we could and preparing for work. I did have a policy of two paid inclement weather days, but decided that our staff was more important than the rules, so we paid the entire staff during time off."