Town raises homes up after seven hurricanes in 15 years

Posted July 31, 2008 8:29 p.m. EDT
Updated July 31, 2008 9:14 p.m. EDT

— Belhaven residents decided their town needed to grow up after it got socked by seven hurricanes in the past 15 years.

Hurricanes often push the Pungo River over its banks and into the streets and homes of this small Beaufort County town. During Hurricane Bonnie in 1998, flood waters two feet deep rushed down streets in the middle of town, Mayor Adam O'Neal said.

That left residents with only two choices: "Either have the people move out, or lift up the houses above flood level," homeowner Lloyd Balance said.

The town of less than 2,000 people has become the subject of the largest housing-elevation project in the country, involving more than 380 homes and millions of federal dollars.

Balance purchased his home only after it had been raised four feet.

"The quality of life has gone up; the inconvenience of storms has gone down," O'Neal said. "It's made Belhaven a lot better place to be."

Hundreds of houses remain to be raised, but federal money for the project is drying up, the mayor said. Federal funding is tied to insurance claims, so the uninsured don't qualify for the program – and that often leaves out the elderly and poor, O'Neal said.

Belhaven's mayor, though, said he won't rest until the housing-elevation project is completed.

"The last house to be raised will be mine," O'Neal said.