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Back home again: Ministries help flooding victim restore residence

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Billy Creech, center, is overwhelmed with emotion as he is congratulated on his newly restored home by Ilham Thurston, left, and Paul Dunn with Lutheran Services Carolinas on May 24, 2019. (Molly Urbina/The Daily Reflector)


By Karen Eckert
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, May 25, 2019

It was hard to believe on Friday that the mobile home on River Road in Vanceboro — with its freshly painted walls and shiny new floors — once was filled with waist-high hurricane flood waters.

Wading through these waters is the situation that homeowner Billy Creech found himself in on an October morning in 2016 when Hurricane Matthew swept through eastern North Carolina.

As a result of the damage that followed, that morning was the last time Creech would wake up at home in his own bed for the next two-and-a-half years.

But on Friday, Creech returned to take a look at his restored and refurnished home. The experience moved him to tears.

The restoration of Creech’s residence was the result of more than two years of work by a team of volunteers led by Lutheran Services Carolinas, a nonprofit ministry that assists victims of disasters.

LSC worked in partnership with another faith-based group: North Carolina United Methodist Disaster Response Ministry,  based in Washington, N.C.

Both of these organizations, along with other volunteers, have been with Creech since the beginning.

That means they were there in 2016 to provide immediate “muck and gut” construction work to prevent more damage to the home than had already occurred, said Paul Dunn, North Carolina/South Carolina disaster director with LCS.

Creech said he remembers what the floors used to look like in those early days and how weakened they were.

“It was like stepping on a chocolate chip cookie,” he said.

Before the walls got their fresh coat of paint, they actually had to be replaced halfway up from the floor, said Doug Orbaker, a volunteer construction manager from Pennsylvania with the disaster response ministry.

Other work included installing all new insulation and kitchen cabinets and appliances, putting in new air conditioning, duct work, vanities and mirrors, toilets and light fixtures. The showers and tubs in the three-bedroom, two-bathroom mobile home were able to be reused, Orbaker said.

On Friday, Creech and the volunteers watched as a truck from Mack’s Furniture Warehouse in Greenville pulled up in front of the house to deliver a couch, a love seat, a kitchen table, bedroom furniture and other items. Creech directed the movers where to place the furniture.

“I like this,” Creech said, rubbing his hand along the smooth surface of the new kitchen table.

Ilham Thurston, case manager with LSC, had selected the furniture, none of which Creech had seen before Friday. He said he likes the items she picked out.

Mack’s Furniture is a “faithful partner” that works with LCS, providing furniture at cost so that the donated dollars go further, Thurston said.

Since Creech lost his home he has been staying with his pastor, who invited Creech to stay with him for what they both thought might be two to three weeks. 

Because he has been sleeping on the couch for the past couple of years, Creech was especially happy to see the arrival of his new box springs and mattress.

He said that of all the furniture, the bed was his favorite.

Creech said that it meant a lot to him to be able to return to his home, which at one time belonged to his late mother.

A retired optician, Creech moved to Vanceboro from Greenville more than 20 years ago so he could care for his mother.

His sister, Barbara Garris, lives on property directly in front of Creech’s mobile home but her house did not sustain the level of damage her brother’s did, she said.

Another sister, Carol Robinson, lives in Greenville and also was on hand Friday morning to celebrate their brother’s return.

Creech lost a lot of personal items in the hurricane, including family pictures.

He said this experience has taught him to appreciate life more and he is grateful to all the people who worked so hard to make his homecoming possible.

Valda Belyeu, case manager with the disaster response ministry, said that it took almost 2,500 volunteer hours to rebuild and refurnish Creech’s home.

There were 11 teams of volunteer workers who contributed to the project, she said.

Sitting on his new love seat, Creech said, “I’m home.”

He later added, “I’m overwhelmed with joy.”

For more information about the disaster response teams that participated in this relief effort visit http://www.lscarolinas.net/disaster-response/lutheran-disaster-coalition-of-the-carolinas/ and https://nccumc.org/outreach/disaster-response/.

Karen Eckert can be reached at 252-329-9565 or keckert@reflector.com.