The mobile home was tilted to the right, gashed-open and water-damaged from the fury of Hurricane Matthew.
“Well,” Miguel Barragan thought as he stepped inside his Marshland Road home on Hilton Head Island Wednesday. “This is home, sweet, home.”
It still held so many signs of home — his family’s shoes and an umbrella tucked neatly up under the porch roof, which they used as storage; the family pictures of his three children that still hung on his walls; the blue comforter neatly made on one of his daughter’s beds.
He decided not to let his kids inside to see the damage or their rooms one last time.
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Struck by a massive oak, the home was uninhabitable.
“I used to have a place to put my kids,” he said Wednesday, a few hours after returning to the island from Ridgeland, where he evacuated last week.
Like other residents of Marshland Road, where some of the island’s poorest residents live, Barragan was well-prepared for the destruction that would greet him when he got back to his home for the first time since Matthew.
Photos of unlivable mobile homes made the rounds quickly Saturday on news sites and social media and from the phones of friends and family. From Spanish Wells to Mathews Drive, a handful of families learned the same day Matthew struck that the homes they’d left behind were not homes anymore.
So, on Wednesday, many of them wasted no time breaking out tools to saw away the trees that smashed through their fragile homes.
They’d already cried.
Now it was time to work.
“What am I supposed to think?” one man said as he surveyed his damaged roof on Allen Road. “I’ve got about six months of work. I got my car ruined, house ruined. Everything.”
He was one of about five families to suffer severe damage in the storm on Allen Road. Across the street, Khadijah Stafford helped relatives work on 26 Allen Road, which had a gaping hole in one side from a tree they had already removed. Inside was her kitchen and dining room — her clean white cabinets; the cork bulletin board, tacked with coupons; a box for an acoustic guitar.
“It means a major setback,” said Stafford, who’s lived on Allen Road since 1993. “I was devastated when I saw the pictures. We need help, help, help.”
Several families echoed Stafford’s plea Wednesday. They asked when help was coming, when they would get financial assistance, and whether the town cared about their destruction when they had so much damage within gated communities to grapple with.
Steve Riley, manager of The Town of Hilton Head Island, said residents should start by contacting United Way of the Lowcountry, which will be distributing donations and pairing volunteers with those in need of help and equipment.
The county has a process for helping low-income disaster victims as well, Riley said, but United Way, Community Foundation of the Lowcountry and networks of churches will probably yield faster results.
In the meantime, residents along Marshland Road were working hard to get as far as they could on their own.
Further down Allen Road, four men were helping a friend, Patrick Young, whose home had been crushed on one side by an oak. One of the branches had speared the mobile home’s thin siding, and the force of the tree had caused the home to sag inward.
“I’m devastated, to be real. Once you see it on TV, it’s surreal,” he said of seeing images of his home’s destruction on the news. “Could have been a lot worse, but this is what we’re dealing with.”
He’s hopeful other neighborhoods will come together like his. As he took a short break, his friends kept dragging tree limbs and raking debris, all to the beat of hip hop music blaring from a speaker.
“You’ve got to praise the lord,” Young said. “If everybody comes together to help, we’ll be back together in no time.”
As a whole, Marshland Road fared decently well in the storm. But the trees that fell hit hard on the mobile home roofs, causing far more destruction than in most other areas.
At 201 Marshland, also called Rollers Trailer Park, the hurricane’s damage exacerbated residents’ frustrations over limited services, like road maintenance and consistent power, despite rent increasing this year to $500 a year. The residents, many of them employees in the island’s tourism and food and beverage industry, also worry they will lose their homes when the property is eventually sold or built over, something at least one developer tried to do this year before giving up in the spring.
So when Barragan, of Rollers, saw a photo of his home split by a massive tree, he felt broken. The oak had knocked it off its foundation and ripped it away from an extension on one end. And the tree had brought water and sewer lines with it, spilled water into the yard until the dirt was just a deep pool of mud.
Not only has clean-up been a headache, but Barragan says his property managers wouldn’t get a tree service to the site that day, and had no answers about where he should bring his children. A manager confirmed Wednesday that they offered to help with the tree Thursday, and said they can’t restore water or power because the home is uninhabitable.
“Well, we’re still alive,” he said. “We’re still in one peace. It hurts like a son of a b----, but what can you do?”