08/01/06 — City family looks back at hurricane

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City family looks back at hurricane

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 1, 2006 1:47 PM

A few pictures, a video recording and a mold and mildew-stained Bible are the only items Cowan family members have left from their previous life -- the years before Hurricane Floyd destroyed the home they had made on Peachtree Street.

Danya Cowan remembers a dark and stormy return from work on a September day in 1999 -- a day she never knew would change her life forever. Rain was falling furiously and tree-toppling winds were knocking down the largest limbs and trunks in Goldsboro, she said.

When she and her husband, Anthony, met at their one-story apartment on Peachtree Street, standing water was already making its way toward the front door.

"Because we had been through hurricanes before, we thought we knew what would happen," Mrs. Cowan said. "We thought that maybe a tree would have fallen but we didn't think it would flood. We had no idea things would go so bad."

Thinking the storm would pass, the Cowans packed an overnight bag and picked up their 1-year-old son from the babysitter before seeking safe shelter at a relative's house in town.

The next day, the family returned to a home they could barely see, she said. Water was everywhere.

"We could only get so close to see the apartment," Mrs. Cowan said. "We could just see the green on the top of the street sign."

Going into their apartment to recover material possessions was not an option -- not for photos of their recent wedding, baby supplies, food or clothing. As they sat looking at the destruction left by Floyd, their furniture, as they would later discover, was floating around the inside of the home.

It was like a bad dream, Mrs. Cowan said.

"We were just numb in the beginning," she said. "It took a couple of days for it to sink in that we no longer had a home."

And so, a mother, father and their infant child spent a trying month with family members -- a few weeks with one set of parents, a few more with the others.

The Cowans' son, Brandon, was too young to realize his life was facing drastic changes. His joy kept Danya and Anthony positive.

"It was definitely a blessing to have family to stay with. It kept Brandon in good spirits," she said. "This was a fun time for him."

While they made a temporary home as guests in their parents' homes, the Cowans faced new challenges every day. Mrs. Cowan recalls waiting in the sticky heat outside places including the Salvation Army and Red Cross, standing in a line for food stamps and supplies -- mosquitoes everywhere.

When the water had finally receded, she said it was time to return to Peachtree Street to pick up the pieces of their broken home. As they approached the apartment, everything looked fine from the outside, she added.

But as soon as they pushed in the front door, it became clear that what didn't fit into their overnight bag weeks ago was destroyed.

"When you opened the front door all you could see was a black film covering everything," Mrs. Cowan said, adding the water marks on the wall indicated more than five feet of standing water had filled their home in the days after the storm.

"It looked like someone had just come in and knocked everything," she said. "Nothing was in its place. It was like you could tell the water had just picked everything up and dropped it wherever it wanted."

The Cowans walked through the wreckage with large bags, tossing in all the memories, big purchases and family heirlooms they had collected since their marriage.

"We had to throw everything out," she said. "And that made us start from scratch."

But starting from scratch was a blessing in disguise, Mrs. Cowan added. It gave her family a new perspective on life.

"It changed our perspective on giving to others," she said. "We have to give back because others gave to us. We give more now, we don't take things for granted. Good things did come out of it eventually. A blessing still came out of it."

One of those blessings, she said, was the opportunity to purchase their first house. But after living through disaster, Mrs. Cowan said she realizes home and family are more than that physical construct or the material possessions inside.

"When you look at material possessions, you see they don't really mean that much," she said.

The Cowans had another realization recently when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, leaving many dead and others without a home.

"When Katrina came through it just brought us right back to where we were before," Mrs. Cowan said.

But having lived through Floyd and having picked up the pieces of a broken home, she knows somehow those devastated by the storm will overcome the hardships thrust upon them when Katrina hit.

"We know they are going to get through it," she said. "We did."

The Cowan family made donations to the Katrina Relief Fund, an action they call payback for all that was done for them by perfect strangers across the state in the fall and winter of 1999.

"Just knowing that people are still out there willing to help, it's just amazing," she said. "I don't know what else to say."

Somewhere in a box in their new garage, the Cowan's water-damaged Bible sits in a plastic bag. It's never opened.

Maybe they keep it as a symbol of the blessings they realized when Hurricane Floyd took their home, Mrs. Cowan said. Or maybe it's simply a reminder of the love and compassion neighbors and perfect strangers showed them after the storm had passed.