On a Beaufort street still feeling the effect of Hurricane Matthew, some residents still wait to return to their homes.
Angela Gilstrap and her boyfriend bought a 24-foot camper last year to renovate and sell for a profit. The purchase has been their home the past five months while parked in the front yard as they await repairs to their house on West Royal Oaks Drive.
“Tiny-house living, it’s overrated,” Gilstrap said. “If I was on a beach somewhere, it might be different.”
Flooding from Hurricane Matthew in October devastated several homes along West Royal Oaks Drive and a few elsewhere in the neighborhood. Residents are hoping for long-term improvements to drainage issues and say the water has risen higher in their yards in recent years during heavy rain and high tides.
West Royal Oaks backs up to a marsh between Battery Creek Road and the Spanish Moss Trail. A tidal creek running through the marsh pushes water through a pipe under Battery Creek Road into a pond at First Boulevard.
The pond serves to control the flow of water and collects rain runoff from a network of ditches. Residents say the pond has filled in over the years and needs to be dredged.
They also want to see a flood gate at the Spanish Moss Trail where Battery Creek enters the marsh. When a storm surge is expected, the gate would be dropped.
The flood gate and city drainage improvements are on a list of possible projects the city is compiling for possible federal community development grants. The work could also be included in any eventual Federal Emergency Management Agency programs to help pay for projects preventing future storm damage.
For now the city is still working with FEMA on areas of concern before any engineering work can be done, and drainage projects will be part of future budget plans, city manager Bill Prokop said.
Until something is done, residents say, flooding will continue. Concerns in past years have been met with finger-pointing from the city, Beaufort County and state about who is responsible, residents said.
The state Department of Transportation added rocks to the banks of First Boulevard ditches running into the pond last year to prevent erosion and dug out some nearby ditches in the past. Nearby resident Charlie Haldt said drain pipes are too small in some cases and that digging out the pond and adding a flood-control gate at Battery Creek are essential solutions.
Haldt has lived at Jane Way and First Boulevard since 1984, and his home had more than $30,000 damage from flooding during the hurricane.
The displaced residents of West Royal Oaks are living with nearby family members or renting other homes while waiting for work to be finished on their homes.
Judy Teas, a longtime West Royal Oaks resident, is renting a nearby home she said is too big but accommodates her dogs. The water level has reached farther into backyards in recent years during high tides, not only during big storms, she said.
Gilstrap and her boyfriend planned to buy their house from their landlord before the storm and still plan complete the purchase. They like the neighborhood and its people.
Charles Reed and his wife, Patricia, have lived with Reed’s daughter in downtown Beaufort since evacuating their West Royal Oaks home of more than 30 years in October. About two feet of water saturated the house and, when the Reeds returned after evacuating to Atlanta, the doors were swollen shut.
The house was gutted, and tile and asbestos was found under the carpeted floors. Insurance money covered much of the work, but Reed dipped into his retirement savings to cover some costs, including new furniture.
The 66-year-old has worked for Wal-Mart more than 25 years since retiring from the Marine Corps and now thinks he might have to work one more year before retiring from the retail store.
Reed still considers himself lucky. Four feet of water inundated his neighbor’s home, and repairs haven’t started.
Reed hasn’t seen the inside but is sure there is mold growing throughout. A classic car sits under a tarp in the driveway after water rose to its windshield.
In the first months after the hurricane, Patricia Reed drove by the couple’s house each day and cried, her husband said. But with new drywall up and new flooring ready to go down, the Reeds hope to be back in their home within a couple of weeks.
The contractor recently walked Patricia through the home and explained how everything would look.
“She left with a smile on her face,” Reed said.