When Liz Wyman, her husband, a staff sergeant in the Marines, and their two kids returned to their house on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, they saw the front of the house and were optimistic. They had evacuated to Georgia for a week to escape from Hurricane Florence and had finally returned – after a 12-hour drive that usually takes six. When they opened the front door, however, they saw that the ceilings of several rooms had collapsed, drenching their belongings in rainwater and debris. Half of the roof on the back of the house had been blown away, the insulation inside soaked up water from the hurricane, and the weight of the saturated insulation caused the ceilings to cave in.
“All of our stuff was ruined,” Liz explained. “Maintenance teams came out and assessed the house and told us it was condemned and not safe for us to stay.” Friends invited Liz and her family to stay with them until they could figure out new lodging.
Liz serves as the chair of volunteers, a caseworker, and training coordinator in the NMCRS Camp Lejeune office. Previously, she served as casework lead at NMCRS New River, and before that as caseworker, chair of volunteers, and Budget for Baby program lead at NMCRS Camp Pendleton where she was hired as a relief services assistant. So Liz has plenty of experience offering help to others, but hadn’t been on the receiving end before.
“It blew me away how much camaraderie there was,” Liz said. “Everyone sprang into action and tried to help us salvage what we could. Everyone form the Society office has been a great help. When we had to go through our old house to clean up, several volunteers came to help. Others have brought us meals. I want to cry because of what happened but also because of how wonderful everyone has been.”
The biohazard team that came to inspect the damage told Liz’s family that anything with a porous surface wasn’t safe to keep because of either water damage or mold spores or both. The family is waiting for their personal household goods insurance policy to pay off and have been moved into another house on base. Later it was discovered that their new on-base house also had mold, so the family is currently on standby for another home.
While Liz has been working to rebuild her family’s lives, she is grateful that they have a place to live and so much support. “All of the NMCRS staff and volunteers have been wonderful. I haven’t been in the office as much as I’d like and everybody has stepped up tremendously to fill in those gaps. They’ve picked up the slack to make sure I have less on my plate and everything in the office is moving smoothly. I know our volunteers have their own hurricane damage to deal with and some of our volunteers and service members didn’t have insurance.”
Before Hurricane Florence hit, Liz and her colleagues at NMCRS Camp Lejeune kept the office open as long as possible to assist service members with money to evacuate. “That Tuesday morning, from when we opened until 1pm, we assisted more than 100 clients. There was a line out the door. But we had a lot of volunteers who stayed to ensure all of our clients got the help they needed.” Now, as active duty and retired service members and families return to pick up the pieces, the office is seeing more clients who have realized they had gaps in their insurance policies or they lost more of their belongings than they first anticipated.
“We’re in rebuild phase, trying to replace items, starting with essentials. My family evacuated with a week’s worth of clothing. You don’t realize how much stuff you have until you’ve lost it all.”
Liz said her 10-year-old and 12-year-old are trying to look at the silver lining of the storm. “They’re excited to revamp their wardrobes and bedrooms,” she said. “We also realize there are some people who still don’t have roofs on their homes and some are still living in shelters. We realize how fortunate we are to find a replacement home so quickly. We are blessed.”
By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso