After Matthew: Family leaning on faith to get home

After Matthew: Family Leans On Faith

GREENSBORO -- Four months since Hurricane Matthew slammed North Carolina's coast and left devastating inland flooding, FEMA estimates at least 1,500 people are still displaced -- many unsure if they'll ever get home.

WFMY News 2's Meghann Mollerus met one of those families, who fled to Goldsboro to Greensboro after the storm. Mollerus sat down with Jessica Depee and Lester Durham, as they painfully reflected on the day that uprooted and changed their lives.

"I was actually calling him with the weather reports I was getting everywhere 'cause I knew he wasn't paying any attention," Depee remembered.

The couple was far from the coast when the storm hit. Depee had just had a baby and was in Greensboro visiting her parents. Durham was at at their home in Goldsboro, taking care of their other four kids. They were all far inland, far from Matthew's wrath -- or so they thought. 

"The thought of a flood never crossed my mind," Durham said. Their daughter Heaven recalled, "We did our chores like we would normally do on a normal day when it's just raining. Then, after a while, we realized the water was getting higher and higher."

The Wayne County 911 operator said ambulances had been grounded due to the flooding. Durham and his four kids had nowhere to go but upstairs.

I pretty much had about 15 minutes to decide what to save and what to sacrifice," Durham said.

So, he grabbed a box of precious pictures. Each child picked a favorite toy and clung to it for comfort. The next day, they came back downstairs to see what, if anything, was left. Durham found his $15,000 card collection soaked with cruel irony. 

"I look at all these white boxes and they're soaked and wet, and sitting on top is this foil card that was perfectly unharmed called 'drowner of hope.'"

Feeling hopeless, they fled Goldsboro to Greensboro to meet up. Since then, the family of seven and their two big dogs have been crammed in Depee's parents house. Over the months, they have received some federal relief. But, FEMA denied housing assistance, because they have homeowner's insurance (just not flood coverage).

Recently, Durham went back to the house and recorded a video of the mess inside. While taking the video, he encountered yet another test of faith when he realized he had been looted again.

But in the family's challenging time, they've also seen the best in people. Right after the storm, Depee found her way back to her childhood church -- Center United Methodist -- in Greensboro. 

"I happened to be driving by, and I looked over and thought maybe I'll just stop and ask them (for help)," she remembered.

Church member Mamie Brown was there at the time. "She wasn't looking for a handout. She just needed clothes for those children," she said.

Brown and other church members fulfilled that need and so much more. A group went down to Goldsboro, on their own accord, to strip the wet insulation and cabinets out of the house.

"They (church members) have taught me or reminded me that when the opportunity arises, they're ready to help," said Rev. Cecil Donahue. 

It's just amazing what people do because they're kind and generous, and you just don't see much of that anymore in the world," Depee said.

The family thinks back on that "drowner of hope" trading card that survived the flood, and they now see the words "drowning in hope. Their family and memories are safe, and they're counting on friendship and faith to get home.

I love it here, there's amazing people here, but home is home," Durham said.

The family has set up a Go Fund Me account, which has generated nearly $2,000 as of Feb. 7. Northern Guilford Elementary School donated $900 from a school-wide penny collection. If you'd like to help Hurricane Matthew victims and other disaster relief efforts, visit the American Red Cross.

Copyright 2017 WFMY


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