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Life after Hurricane Florence in the eyes of James Sprunt student, Hunter Hanchey

The flood waters may have receded in Duplin County, but for many of our students, such as Hunter Hanchey, a criminal justice major at James Sprunt Community College, the effects are still ongoing and heart-wrenching.

“It was the most emotional thing to go through … It’s been a mess, everyone is questioning now … What to do and what can you do?” said Hunter. “There are people that I know who are a lot worse off than we are … there are people staying upstairs in the firehouse, sleeping on cots.”

Life is not back to normal for Hunter, and it is not business as usual. As evident with Hunter, residents in Duplin County are still feeling the sting of Hurricane Florence, day-in and day-out.

The devastation was widespread across much of Duplin County, particularly in the Northeast community of Wallace, NC. Where Hunter lives, the Island Creek — which converges with the Northeast Cape Fear River along Hwy 41 — flooded at record levels, leaving many others homeless, displaced, and in many situations, separated from loved ones.

Hunter points to the line where the flood waters rose at his home. Courtesy of James Sprunt Community College

This is the case for Hunter and his family.

“I told my parents I would stay with my Grandma, so that they could be more comfortable living in the camper,” said Hunter, a camper that houses his mom, dad, sister and brother that’s parked in the driveway of the place he grew up.

As you stand looking at the outside of the house that flooded, you see a beautiful home with a wooden front porch. Two dogs, Duke and Shadow, greet you as you walk along the driveway. Once you step inside however, you see the reality of what has taken place.

“This is home,” said Hunter as he entered the house he has lived in all his life. The very place that contained bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room, and all the little things that make a house a home, has been thrown away, discarded, and torn down to the very studs. All that is left is the vinyl siding, the glass windows, a storm door, and the frame which supports the house.

His family has lost everything.

The porch that was once attached to his parent’s barn, floated behind a church located across the street from his house, showing the strength and force of the floodwaters as they began to rise.

Water levels reached over four feet at Hunter’s home — water which carried animals, fish, toxic waste, sewage from humans and animals, debris, and poisonous snakes.

“My parents paid for the house, done all this and provided this for us … I grew up here, now look at it,” said Hunter.

The trauma doesn’t just stop with losing everything for the victims of this hurricane. Like so many, Hunter is still trying to cope with the horrific conditions that he endured as the floodwaters began to rise. Although his family had already evacuated the area, Hunter, a volunteer firefighter, stayed behind to assist with search and rescue. His father, the assistant chief of the fire department, also stayed behind.

“Everything we ever talked about with Hurricane Floyd, what we prepared for, put that to the side, that don’t count anymore,” said Hunter.

One water rescue he assisted with will always stand out in his mind as he recalls the events of Hurricane Florence.

“We got the call at 3:30 Sunday morning for a water rescue of four people towards Hwy 50. Coming through we could tell the water was about three feet deep,” said Hunter, who had no idea what he was about to witness.

With his father driving a M35 2½-ton cargo truck (what Hunter refers to as a “deuce and a half” army truck), with a boat hitched to the back, Hunter along with two other search and rescue team members set out to rescue the family of four, putting their own life at risk. They ended up saving the lives of six.

As they started across the bridge going towards Chinquapin, NC, they came across two people they did not know, struggling to make it across in a pick-up truck pulling a camper. With the water steadily rising, and already being at three feet over that area, the rescue team told the individuals their options.

“We said, ‘You have two options, you can stay here and drown, or you can get in the truck with us and we can get you to higher ground,’” said Hunter. “They got in the truck with us and we set out to get the four people that had made the call.”

Using the boat, they were able to make it to rescue the family of four in Chinquapin. “There were people standing at their mailboxes, holding flashlights shining them at us trying to get our attention, they were in neck deep water,” said Hunter. “The whole time we were down there, the water was rising,” said Hunter.

As they started to drive back, they encountered one foot waves coming over the hood of the truck, which stands at over six foot tall.

With it being the middle of the night, Hunter states that they “couldn’t see and we went over the shoulder of the road a little bit, we had to drive over refrigerators that were floating in the water, we couldn’t stop … It is a ride I will never forget.”

“We were not supposed to make it,” said Hunter, adding “My daddy was not driving that truck… the Good Lord was.”

As Hunter and his family begins the rebuilding process of his home – and his life – he is trying to remain focused on school, but it is hard.

Life has changed drastically for him.

He cannot go home after school or when he gets off work to sit on his favorite couch, watch a game of football in his living room, or eat supper at the family table.

His desire to become a Highway Patrolman, and to help people, is what keeps him coming to class everyday. “I want to prove that cops can be good people,” said Hunter. “If I can help you, I’m going to help you.”

Hunter comes from a family dedicated to public service, with his father serving not only at the fire department, but also as a Sherriff’s deputy for Duplin County. It is a part of why he wants to go into law enforcement.

“Any assistance that we can receive, with tuition or anything, it will help,” said Hunter in reference to the legislation for emergency funding passed this week for colleges. “It would be a blessing and would help us … we have lost everything.”

Editor’s note: This perspective was first published by James Sprunt Community College. It has been posted with the author’s permission.

Cheryl Hemric

Cheryl Hemric is the public information officer at Robeson Community College. Hemric has worked in the North Carolina Community College System, promoting student success, for over 20 years. She is a proud graduate of a community college, holding an associates degree in advertising and graphic design, and loves to share the story of how education can changes lives and give people hope. She received her bachelor’s degree from Liberty University and her master’s degree in marketing from Southern New Hampshire University.