LUMBERTON, NC (WBTW) – Saturday marks six months since Hurricane Matthew brought damaging winds and devastating floods to the area. One of the hardest-hit places was Robeson County, where there are still people in hotels awaiting repairs to public housing.
Sarah McLean, the property manager at First Baptist Apartments in South Lumberton, said the residents are like family. She had trouble finding everyone in the confusion just after the storm, and remembers that protecting them was first on her mind.
“Once I walked in and saw them, you know, I was fine, but I wasn’t fine,” McLean recalled. “That’s when we found out they had to leave and go to the shelters.”
After the storm devastated First Baptist and several other public and low-income communities, many like Lola Smith were forced to live in hotels across the city.
“It was a trying ordeal, but we’re still hanging in there and that’s a good thing,” said Smith.
At their last meeting, Lumberton City Council got an update on repairs to housing for those who need help most. The city Housing Authority said the number of people on its waiting list is now less than one hundred.
The housing authority itself has around 250 housing units still damaged from last year’s storm.
“I was born and raised in South Lumberton,” McLean cried. “It’s been devastating.”
While First Baptist Apartment operates independently of the housing authority, it still gets federal support and most of its residents get some form of assistance. McLean said the process of putting a roof over her residents’ heads has sometimes been frustrating and confusing.
“I had to stand up and just say, ‘Look, leave my residents alone,'” explained McLean. “‘If you’re not going to find them nowhere, if you’re not gonna help us, let them stay in the motels.'”
First Baptist Apartments was lucky, and got help from insurance as well as FEMA and other public funds, though Lola and many like her still live in hotels around the area.
“There’s some things you take for granted when you’re living at home,” Lola mused. “Cooking your own food, even taking a bath. I wouldn’t want to make it a lifetime!”
The city of Lumberton is working to with engineering and architectural firms to get its housing units repaired. Mclean said First Baptist Apartments will be ready within a month, and Lola said she can’t wait.
“Thank God we do have a place we’ll be coming back to,” she laughed.