Carteret County neighbors lean on each other to cope with Irene

Posted August 30, 2011 6:38 p.m. EDT
Updated August 30, 2011 11:30 p.m. EDT

— In the small, remote communities up and down the Atlantic coast where Hurricane Irene's powerful winds sucked up sea and rain and spewed it into yards, homes and businesses, people are turning to their neighbors for help.

Norma Clark lives on the bank of the Jarrett Bay in Smyrna, where her view of the water is beautiful, she said. But when Irene caused the bay to spill over Clark's property and into her home, that view became terrifying.

"I looked out my windows and I just, I just started crying," Clark said Tuesday. 

Many of her neighbors had evacuated, but Clark chose not to for fear it would traumatize her disabled, wheelchair-bound brother. 

Suddenly stuck and scared, she called the fire department.

"I said, 'I'm surrounded by water. I'm not sure how I'm going to get out, and I really need help,'" Clark said.

It was the only emergency call the Marshallberg fire department received during the storm, but flooding prevented them from responding.

"We couldn't make it down there," said Capt. Margaret Riggs. "Roads between here and Smyrna all the way were flooded."

But this Carteret County community is small, and Riggs knew someone who could help. When the eye of the storm brought temporary calm to the area, Jim Harp got into his small boat, paddled to Clark's home and rescued her and her brother.

"It was like a half hour that we had some peace and quiet. I just hugged him, I mean, that's all you can do," Clark said.

Her home is still without power, she has lost all of her food and the heat makes it hard to sleep, but Clark said the support of neighbors is helping her cope.

Meanwhile, about 10 miles up U.S. Highway 70, residents of Stacy, a township of about 250 people, are eager to have their power restored. Progress Energy crews lined the highway Tuesday, bringing hope into the storm-washed and weary community.

Volunteers with the Salvation Army, U.S. Army and Church of Latter Day Saints were keeping power crews and residents fed in the generator-powered Stacy Fire Department. They've served more than 1,500 meals since Saturday afternoon.

It's one of four sites in the county offering hot meals to hurricane victims. There are also six water and ready-to-eat meal pick-up sites in Carteret County.

Coming together, feeding each other and helping with clean-up is just part of life in the area, which has been tossed around by an angry Atlantic before.

"It's part of who we are... you leave your keys in your car at night," said Stacy resident Johnny Cook. "The people are real close and they help each other."