Daryl Steinbraker saw the floodwaters rising and knew she had to get to work.
She had stayed in her River Landing community in Wallace as Hurricane Florence approached North Carolina in September because she knew she would be needed in her role as Red Cross government liaison and disaster team coordinator.
What she didn’t expect was that the floodwaters would claim her own home. When she and her husband built in 2006, the year she began volunteering for the Red Cross, they raised the house a foot above where the floodwaters from Hurricane Floyd had reached in 1999. After Eastern North Carolina took a double punch from Hurricanes Dennis and Floyd, rivers rose to 500-year flood levels, according to federal data.
“We were assuming we’d never have a problem,” Steinbraker said.
When a mandatory evacuation order was issued for her area, she went to a friend’s. A couple of Coast Guard helicopters flew overhead, but she waved them off. But after the power went out and the waters kept rising, she knew she had to find a way out or risk being isolated.
A rescue boat was cruising by, with a Ski-Doo leading because the water was so high cars were underwater and difficult to see. The rescuers, a group from Marco Island, Florida, helped evacuate Steinbraker and her friend.
When the rescuers asked what Steinbraker did, she was a bit chagrined to tell them she worked in disaster relief.
“I’m so embarrassed because I’m the Red Cross lead for Duplin County,” she told them. “I asked if I could help.”
It turned out that the rescuers needed help, too — they didn’t know the area, and addresses on homes were submerged and impossible to read. So Steinbraker served as their navigator.
They cruised through the River Landing neighborhood, an area with a large number of senior citizens, checking on residents and bringing food. At the time, some still were adamant that they wouldn’t leave.
“I’m not sure anyone was able to ride it out all the way,” Steinbraker said.
About 240 houses in the development were flooded out, said Charles Farrior, the mayor of Wallace who has known Steinbraker for years.
At the shelters in Wallace, she had the advantage of knowing the community.
“One hundred percent of our shelter staff was from anywhere else,” she said.
When a shelter opened at the city’s Campbell Center, she used her local connections to get a full-sized refrigerator donated. She also helped smooth relations between the shelter and other programs running at the center.
“She knew the history of the place and provided continuity,” Farrior said. “She was phenomenal.”
Steinbraker also worked with Duplin County officials to deliver about 2,000 MREs to a neighboring county. She was a consistent point of contact for shelter staff and government officials.
Plus, she said, the fact she had been forced out of her home gave her “street cred” with residents at the shelters.
“I understood exactly how everyone was feeling,” she said.
Her home was underwater for days.
“My house had 27 inches on the first floor and 5 feet in the garage,” she said. Although she and her husband recently have completed the muck-out, it remains unlivable.
But Farrior says he never heard her mention her house even as she was working with the relief effort.
“She was all about helping folks in that shelter and folks in need,” he said.
That Steinbraker would use her time during the storm and after to take care of others comes as no surprise to James Jarvis, executive director of the Cape Fear Area Red Cross Chapter.
“Daryl has been such a great volunteer in Duplin — she always puts the needs of others first,” he said. “Even when she’s on an evacuation boat, she thinks of others.”
She remains humble about her effort.
“It was so much more of a gift to me, because your options are … you worry and you’re incredibly sad, or you get to go out and maybe do something that helps somebody else in it,” she said. “People think it’s selfless … but trust me, I got so much more out of it.”
Story by Michael White/American Red Cross
Photos courtesy of Daryl Steinbraker