As you drive into the coastal town of Ocracoke on Ocracoke Island, you will encounter the local U.S. Post Office and you’ll notice people coming and going, getting their mail and packages. Once you’re in the office, it’s clear that Postmaster Celeste Brooks and her colleague Melissa Sharber know every person in town and welcome every visitor as if they were a local friend. On a busy Monday afternoon, the Red Cross spoke with them about their experience on the island during Hurricane Dorian.
After living on the island for fifteen years, Celeste thought she had seen it all and weathered many storms and hurricanes. However, she had never quite seen anything like Hurricane Dorian. This devastating storm was the worst thing to ever happen to her family. When her home began to fill with flood water, she and her two children, ages twelve and fourteen, rushed to the attic. They tried to salvage as many items as they could, but it was unbearable to see so much lost so quickly. The family was rescued and fortunate enough to receive a temporary place to stay, but most of all, thankful to be safe. Celeste would say everyone was knocked down, but after that everyone pulled together and started to do what needed to be done.
On Friday there was flooding, but by Monday mail was being brought to the island by ferry; a sign of some normalcy amongst the damage and chaos. Along with homes, the post office and many businesses were flooded. As the community began to pull itself together, the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department became a hub for communication, meals, volunteers, and distribution of resources. In those initial days, Celeste and Melissa were there too, helping however they could and still delivering the mail – along with hope and comfort of a smile.
Melissa and her family have lived on the island all her life. During Hurricane Matthew, she said it was alarming when the water came as high as her fence. Hurricane Dorian truly scared her when the water came into the house, as they did not have access to an attic to escape to. They decided to wade through the water to a family member’s house which was elevated. After the storm passed and the water receded, it was time to move forward. Although shell-shocked, Melissa and her husband began the process of salvaging what they could and then began tearing out all the water damaged areas of their home.
Celeste describes the Ocracoke community as one big family. “Although there are challenges, when tough times come, we all stand with each other and do what is necessary to move forward.” They have found a way to get things done, but there is still work ahead.
Prior to Dorian, Celeste had seen the Red Cross provide meals and resources but had not received services directly. The town of Ocracoke is a very resilient community and its members take care of each other, but they cannot do it all. Celeste admits the Red Cross and the community partners that have been supporting the recovery efforts on the island have been a blessing.
At the Ocracoke post office, there is incoming mail – envelopes of all shapes and sizes. It is a reminder of all the Red Cross donors who addressed their own letters and sent donations to Red Cross to help support the Hurricane Dorian relief effort. Those donations are continuing to support the recovery on Ocracoke Island.
“Thank you, even though the words are not enough, you do not know the blessing that you have bestowed on all of us. The kindness and generosity of people amazed me, I don’t even know how to put it into words. I am speechless at the kindness of strangers, the care and concern, just how much they did for people they don’t even know.” Celeste said the financial assistance provided by the Red Cross has been so critical to helping families hold on a little longer as their homes are repaired, the businesses reopen, and people can return to work.
As Celeste and Melissa consider what has been lost in their town – and on the entire island – they know hope abounds in their community and the recovery makes progress every single day. As they move their lives forward, they are certain that the community will grow stronger and are thankful for donors that made those steps forward easier and more bearable.
Story by Cally Edwards | American Red Cross