The front yard of Joanna Altman’s house is dry. So is the driveway, the garage and the inside of the house, too. Only a small pond of standing water in the backyard hints at what the area looked like a week ago.
Carpet, recliners, lamps and other household goods line the driveway. Driving by, it’s easy to think Altman was getting ready for a yard sale. Instead, these are efforts to again dry out her home — the second time in three years — because of flooding from the Little Pee Dee River.
“I can’t go through this again,” Altman recalled thinking as floodwaters rose.
“She cried every day,” said Becky Marlowe, her cousin. “Because this is the second time losing a home.”
In 2016, floods after Hurricane Matthew were almost instantaneous, and residents of Pee Dee Road South had little chance to save their homes.
Altman said she lost half her belongings. She had hoped Federal Emergency Management Agency funds would help elevate her home. But, that request was not covered.
In 2018, the Hurricane Florence floods rose slower, allowing Galivants Ferry residents to get irreplaceable items out of their homes.
“My god,” Altman said, “You got to try to save all you can.”
On Tuesday, Altman and Marlowe worked to dry the slightly elevated home. She showed off where she ripped out the green carpet exposing the plywood flooring in the living room. In the kitchen, all the cabinets were open to dry as mold started to grow. A line of pebble-sized debris runs about 14 inches off the ground along the inside walls and shows how high the water sat.
It was just months ago that Altman finished remodeling the garage from Hurricane Matthew damage. The water inside that structure reached a couple of feet high.
While the stress of floods is enough for anyone, Altman also has battled cancer. That fight, though, has put her in the right frame of mind as she works to dry and clean her property from another round of water. She doesn’t plan on moving from the area where she and all her relatives live because “it’s home.”
“I’ll make it,” Altman said. “I’ve overcome the health issues … and then got to start all over again here. And I know that’s going to be a long road to go.”
A berm spares
A few houses down from Altman, Rodney Hyman’s home still sits behind an 8-foot tall mound of dirt to protect his property. He gained notoriety after The Sun News drone footage showed the efforts he and his sons undertook ahead of Hurricane Florence.
His sister, Dessie Hyman, said the berm did its job for the most part. Some water got through the barrier after Florence dropped more than a foot of rain in the area. The sewer backed up and there were several inches of water inside. But, she said it would have been worse if not for the wall.
“It probably got chest-deep water inside if not for the berm,” she said. “He did the right decision in the berm putting it around the house.”
Dessie Hyman echoed Altman’s words and said this year the floodwaters rose much slower. That allowed locals to remove items. She spent Tuesday moving items back into her home from storage. Many Pee Dee Road residents could only return to their homes late last week when waters receded enough for cars to navigate the roads.
“It was surprising,” Hyman said, “a lot worse than Matthew was.”
Water drops at the lake
The Altman family has lived on Gunter’s Lake off the Little Pee Dee River for decades and are used to flooding. They made it through Hurricane Matthew, and Robert and his son, Kevin, waited out the Hurricane Florence flooding at the property.
The family has a sign to measure the water’s height next to a deck. On Tuesday, it read about 11 feet, the same as 10 days ago. In the time between, though, it went over the top of the sign at 15 feet.
“At least 2 feet above,” he said.
The water reached the bottom of one of the homes and destroyed the air conditioning underneath. It did not reach the inside of the living areas. They also had to raise the water pump a couple of times to keep it out of the floods.
Robert Ambrose said they thanked God there wasn’t more damage, but also joked they had a lot of cleaning on the horizon as waters recede.
“It’s kinda getting out of here,” Ambrose says. He then quips “not fast enough.”