By Laura Sikes

NEW BERN, N.C. — When 89-year-old William Cunniff returned to his flood-damaged home in New Bern, N.C., after Hurricane Florence hit the state, he found mold climbing the walls of every room. Cunniff had evacuated and stayed out of the state with relatives until it was safe to return.


North Carolina Baptists on Mission volunteer Chuck Hale of Englewood Baptist Church in Rocky Mount, N.C., shows William Cunniff, 89, his old U.S. Marine Corps uniform that was soaked by flood waters. Hale and 7 other volunteers helped Cunniff sort through items to salvage from his flood-damaged home while doing a tear-out on his home of 20 years. “It’s his stuff and you have to respect that,” Hale said. “I told him I am here to help you.” Photo by Laura Sikes.

The widower and U.S. Marine Corps veteran found that his home of 20 years in the Fairfield Harbour community had taken on more than a foot of flood waters just as many other homes in his neighborhood had. Cunniff is staying with his next-door neighbor whose garage took on less than a foot of water.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers are helping Cunniff and many other survivors to get back into their homes and to restore their lives. The job is a dirty one as volunteers tear out sheetrock, pull up flooring and often help owners sort through flood damaged items.

For many homeowners who were affected in the area, they have lost almost the entire contents of their homes. Damaged furniture, appliances and personal effects lay in piles in front of homes in many neighborhoods, street after street.


Employees from East Carolina University Jenna Hoffman, left, and Marissa Carraway sweep up after tearing up flooring on William Cunniff’s flood damaged home in New Bern, N.C. They worked alongside the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief team for the day with two other volunteers from their university to help Cunniff on his home. Photo by Laura Sikes.

North Carolina Baptists On Mission have been responding since the storm hit in September, operating out of Temple Baptist Church in New Bern. The site is one of several posts serving in the state in hard hit areas along the coast from Wilmington and west to Lumberton. Hundreds of SBDR volunteers from multiple states have come to help.

SBDR volunteers have served 1.1 million meals to Hurricane Florence survivors. They have cleaned downed trees and debris from over 900 yards and completed over 170 flood cleanup jobs in North and South Carolina.

Nearly 100 people have professed faith in Christ since SBDR volunteers began ministering to local communities.


North Carolina Baptists on Mission feeding unit volunteers Skip Alexander, left, of Trinity Baptist in Mooresville, N.C. and Richard Saltz of Mountain View Baptist in Hickory, N.C. carry Cambros for the next meal for American Red Cross emergency vehicles to deliver. Manna One mobile kitchen, operating from Temple Baptist Church, has been serving meals to the New Bern community since Sept. 16. They are still preparing meals to fulfill American Red Cross requests and for volunteers. For three weeks, they also offered carry-out and drive through meals for the community. The meal count averaged about 20,000 per day in the first week of the response and is down to about 4,000 as people have returned to their homes and have power. Photo by Laura Sikes.

New Bern site command leader Jimmy Lawrence of FBC Mayodan said the storm’s damage across the state has been devastating.

“The huge land mass affected and the potential for homelessness here may have an impact like nothing we’ve dealt with in North Carolina,” he said.

Recovery operations volunteer Ed Coltrane of Colonial Baptist Church in Trinity, N.C. said the site has taken 742 jobs with 340 completed. They are still taking requests every day, with about 80 percent of the work asked for being mud out and chain-saw work.

An eight-member team worked two days to help Cunniff with his home. They ripped up flooring and emptied out rooms full of damaged furniture.

North Carolina Baptist Men volunteer Chuck Hale of Englewood Baptist Church of Rocky Mount, N.C., helped Cunniff find items that could be salvaged.

“It’s his stuff and you have to respect that,” Hale said. “I told him I am here to help you.”

Cunniff said he was appreciative of the volunteers’ work.

“I couldn’t have found a better group of people. It’s just like friends doing things for one another. That’s the Christian attitude,” he said.

Another volunteer group worked for six days on a complete tear out of the first floor and basement of a flood damaged home in Trenton, N.C.


Tyler Newman and Ken Cruz of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. carry out plywood that they tore out of a flood-damaged home in Trenton, N.C. They worked for six days on a complete tear-out with four other members from their church alongside of volunteers from North Carolina. Photo by Laura Sikes.

The home of a Temple Baptist Church member took on three to four feet of flood waters when the Trent River overflowed its banks.

Six volunteers from Saddleback Church of Lake Forest, Calif., worked alongside four volunteers from North Carolina.

Crystal Rose Alford, of Saddleback Church, said what she cherishes about serving is getting to interact with the homeowners.

“Our prayer and our hope is to get to love on the homeowner,” she said. “Pieces of our hearts are left here in the home that we have worked on. It’s an indelible mark.”

Team leader Anthony Cooper of Wilson, N.C. said they appreciate the New Bern community.

“We’ve been touched by a lot of the people here,” he said.

Senior pastor Jim Pennington and associate pastor Bennett Holloway of Temple Baptist Church thanked the volunteers for all their hard work for the community at a dinner that the church gave the volunteers.

“Seeing what you guys do, words cannot express the appreciation we have for you,” said Holloway.

Laura Sikes is a freelance writer with the North American Mission Board.