A child’s faded red electric car sits abandoned in the overgrown back yard.
Inside the vacant house, the bottom 4 feet of drywall has been removed and the carpet torn out in preparation for repairs that will not be made.
And what the floodwaters from the nearby Neuse River didn’t damage, vandals have — holes punched through the ceiling and walls as they stripped out copper wiring.
The house is on Arrington Bridge Road, but it could be any of the similar properties across Wayne County flooded by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016 and again in September by Hurricane Florence.
The owner, Arnold Flowers, says he does not want the attention to be on him. Rather, he wants everyone who sees what happened to the house and the others like it, not just in terms of a natural disaster, as a human tragedy — a tragedy that for some has lingered for two and a half years.
“What I am trying to convey is the human tragedy that has gone on through this whole process, and how the governmental bureaucracy has hurt people so bad,” said Flowers, a former Wayne County commissioner and school board member.
Flowers’ son and daughter-in-law, Lee and Lindsey Flowers, and their three young sons who were ages 2, 7 and 8 at the time, were living in the house when Hurricane Matthew struck. They have since moved out of Wayne County.
“It has just been a really bad deal all the way through,” Lee Flowers said. “It’s been a nightmare, and my nightmare is probably not as bad as some of the others because I was fortunate. I say I was fortunate. Daddy had done all of the financing for me. Some of these other people financed through the bank and have had to make payments and have rent, and it has been what, two, three years now.
“It has been a long bad process for a lot of people. It has been a bad deal for everybody.”
Lee Flowers said he reads in newspapers where money has been allocated to clean out ditches and disaster victims still have not been paid.
Flowers said he is proud of his father’s involvement working on behalf of other disaster victims.
FINANCED HOUSE FOR HIS SON
“I bought the house myself and paid for it and financed it for my son,” Arnold Flowers said. “It was a family agreement. I have papers to that effect. I did not give him a deed to it. I just have a promissory note, an agreement to pay and an amortization schedule where they made the payment on it until October when it flooded.
“It was a rent to own. It was family, but it was his house. I don’t need a house. I have a house. But the dream was, you see I own 125 acres of land behind this house that is timberland. They loved it here. The boys were able to play and roam. There are wood paths all through there.”
Following the flooding from Hurricane Matthew, which left 13 inches of water in the house, Flowers talked with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials and told them his son owned the house.
Flowers said he was told no, that his son was renting the house and therefore was not eligible for disaster assistance to rebuild.
His son received rental assistance in the Dudley area for a while before moving into his mother-in-law’s camper at Newport, where he was able to get a job with a construction company.
The camper was too small for a family of five, and they have since moved into a house. Lee Flowers has a job at the Wilmington Port and the family is looking for a home there.
The Arrington Bridge Road house has qualified for the federal buyout program and Flowers said whatever he receives above what is owed on the property, he plans to give to his son since he owns it.
“At four and half percent interest (his son’s loan,) two years have gone on,” he said. “It has accrued $6,500 in interest waiting on them to buy it out. That is not going to be reflected in the (buyout) appraisal at all.”
PROCESS HURTING FAMILIES
Flowers said he is going to be fine, but that the process is hurting not only his children, but other families across the county as well.
“This is humanitarian aid for our country,” Flowers said. “These are U.S. citizens. They are homeowners. They are working. Everyone one of them has a story. They can all tell you their story.
“But I am here speaking for the group of people, the human tragedy that is going on and continuing to go on, and the money that it is costing them and accruing every month that this thing goes on, while there is just this endless barrage of foot shuffling. That is why I am here.”
Flowers said he could have had the house fixed for his son and family if the government would just go away and leave him alone.
The cost might have been around $10,000 and repairs could have been completed prior to Christmas, he said.
Volunteers from the community, churches and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base helped with initial work, including tearing out the bottom 4 feet of wall and ripping up the carpet.
However, Flowers received a letter from the city of Goldsboro telling him that in order to have the power restored, the house would have to be brought up to current heating, plumbing and electrical standards. Also, the house would have to be elevated.
Flowers said the requirements did not seem insurmountable, but the devil is in the elevation details.
“To elevate it, you have to have a set of engineer drawings,” he said. “You have got to have pilings put in the ground. They have to be either in 3- or 4-foot diameter holes, 4-foot deep, filled with concrete. You have to have cross bracing. It is the same standard as if it were sitting on the beach, the surf on the beach.”
Water can get several feet deep in a floodplain, but a floodplain is different than a beach, he said. Yet, there are blanket standards, Flowers said.
The bid to get the work done was $77,000 for a house that Flowers paid $60,000 for.
“So, I didn’t have any choice, but to go for the buyout,” he said. “A lot of people applied for elevation, but they didn’t get it. They (state, federal agencies) don’t want to do the elevation, but that is a whole other subject. The agenda here is to rewild the waterways. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I’m just saying that is the overall agenda.”
Following the flooding of Hurricane Floyd in 1999, buyout appraisals were based on a house’s pre-flood value, he said.
This time, the fact that a house is in flood-zone area is also being considered, and the appraisals are lower and some homeowners have refused them, he said.
Flowers said he does not yet know what the offer will be on the house, but he will have to take it.
Along with the buyout program, the county has received State Acquisition Relocation Funds or gap money.
The program provides up to $50,000 in gap grant funds for homeowners to pay the difference between their flood-damaged home to be acquired through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (buyout program) and the cost of a comparable replacement home outside the 100-year floodplain.
“Because this was not my primary residence, I don’t qualify for the gap money,” Flowers said. “But the point is that it is not about me, the human element is that they have all of these details and all of these categories. I mean the moon has got to align just right.
“It’s humanitarian aid. My children have been destroyed. That is the point.”
Where the fault lies, and how long it is taking to get help to where it is needed, is irrelevant at this point — it is about humanitarian aid for the people who need it, Flowers said.