'It broke my heart:' Memories of Hurricane Florence linger with flood victims 3 years later

SPRING LAKE, N.C. (WTVD) -- When Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina on Sept. 14, 2018, it was only the beginning of the destruction the storm would cause throughout the state.

In the days and weeks that followed, flooding damaged an estimated 74,000 buildings throughout the state and led more than 140,000 residents to apply for disaster assistance, according to the final National Hurricane Center report.

Three years later, flood victims still vividly remember the damage Hurricane Florence left in its wake.

"It was worse than I could imagine," said Reverend Floyd Benfield. "It broke my heart, it really did."

Benfield is the pastor of the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in Spring Lake. In 2018, floodwaters reached the top of the windows at his Cumberland County church.

"Windows were missing, glass was missing out of a number of them. There were small logs laying on that passageway, the door was jammed, swollen, and jammed shut," Benfield remembered.

Benfield remembered having to climb into a window to get inside the building, once floodwaters rescinded.

"Unless you saw it, you couldn't believe it," Benfield said. "Those pews were screwed down with big long screws and it tore every one of them right out of the floor."

The damage coming just two years after the congregation had made repairs following flooding from Hurricane Matthew. During the second flooding, the church lost everything.

Benfield said the church was able to rebuild through donations that streamed in from across the state and country.

"We got donations from churches in Florida, and Alabama, we never heard of them, how they heard about them who knows," Benfield said. "Next thing you know, we had a check."

Three years later, signs of Hurricane Florence still linger in the water markings on the white church and in a third building where the walls remained stripped down to the studs.

Lingering repairs serve as constant reminders for other flood victims across the area.

Spring Lake resident Regina Evans said she is still not done with repairs.

"We just got to keep working on the little things that we can do," Evans said. "All the windows are done, the doors are done, but because of the crawlspace the floor is starting to dip so we've got to do something so we don't incur more damage."

Flooding led to more than five feet of water entering her house and caused an estimated $124,000 in damage. The flooding made the property unlivable for over a year. Her family received funding from FEMA and an SBA loan to help remake their house into a home.

"It can be hard. It can be very stressful, but just keep pushing. Don't give up the faith, I mean, that's the only thing that's gotten us this far," Evans said as a message to other flood victims.

Even as time passes, Evans said she can still remember the moment she was able to reenter her home and lay eyes on the destruction.

"That's never going to go anywhere only because we had to touch things," Evans said. "If we lost it to a fire, it would have been different, because I wouldn't have had to touch personal items like my grandbabies' pictures, my kids' pictures, diplomas, marriage license, like things that meant a lot to you."

All mementos of her life that they were forced to throw out.

Both Benfield and Evans said their faith continues to carry them on the road to recovery.

North Carolina was awarded $336 million in federal assistance following Hurricane Florence. The state was unable to share how much of that funding is still available but residents in certain counties can still apply for assistance.

The state has awarded $251 million for damage caused by Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Florence.

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