By Rick Burnette
We find Rev. Todd Padgett chatting with breakfasting volunteers in the fellowship hall of First Baptist Church of Whiteville, North Carolina. Church members, Martha and Fred Senter, are just leaving, having spent another morning as church hosts for the volunteers. We learn that a group of East Tennessee volunteers from Ball Camp Baptist, Knoxville and Monte Vista Baptist, Maryville have already left for the Crusoe Island community, 20 miles southeast of the church, to continue repairing flood-damaged homes.
As part of a collaborative effort between CBF North Carolina, CBF Disaster Response and First Baptist of Whiteville, Todd Padgett serves as the CBF local Response Coordinator in Columbus County, N.C., an area hard-hit by Hurricane Florence in September 2018. Following heavy rains and high winds, many local communities were inundated with floodwaters resulting from the storm’s slow, meandering path.
Crusoe Island was chosen for CBF recovery efforts due not only to extensive flooding but its relative isolation.
Not an actual island, Crusoe is located on slightly higher ground in the swamplands just south of Lake Waccamaw. “One road in and one road out,” as the locals say, theirs is a tight-knit community of approximately 200 people with a reputation for self-sufficiency. Although the decline of the local tobacco industry created livelihood challenges, many continue to farm and garden, producing sweet potatoes, soybeans and corn.
Unfortunately, the 2018 flood has only heightened economic uncertainty for not only Crusoe Island, but many rural communities throughout the Carolina low country.
Todd refers to Anita Hyatt as The Mayor. Living near the intersection, Anita knows every family along the 2.5 mile-long Crusoe Island Road. Like most of her neighbors, she had to evacuate soon after Florence made landfall. Waiting five days in Whiteville until flood waters began to recede, Anita caught a ride home on a neighbor’s tractor-drawn hay trailer.
Almost reaching the floor of her mobile home, water had damaged its insulation, underpinning and air ducts. Despite all, she says that she’s more fortunate than many of her neighbors as she was able to move back in before Christmas. With the help of a team of volunteers coordinated by Todd, flood-damaged materials were removed to eliminate exposure to toxic mold.
Meanwhile, scores of other Crusoe Island neighbors are still in the process of having their homes restored. Waiting on repairs, some have decided to live with the risk of mold.
Little by little, progress is being made. Even though moldy materials have already been removed from Ruby Ezzell’s mobile home, there are still weak spots along the floor. The Tennessee team has brought some materials to help address that problem.
Sadly, tragedies do not wait their turn. Only weeks after Terri Hayes’ cypress-board house was flooded her husband passed away. They had built the house in 2006, several years after their first home had been damaged during Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Asked how Hurricane Florence compared to the ‘90s flood, Terri replied, “When Floyd came, you could count how many homes (in Crusoe) were flooded. When this last storm hit, you could count how many homes weren’t flooded.”
A Tennessee Connection
With coordination from Todd and the essential involvement of volunteer groups from CBF congregations and elsewhere, much needed assistance is being directed to Crusoe Island. The wood panel walls of Terri Hayes’ home are being replaced with appropriate beadboard material.
Across the road, the Tennessee team is busy converting an old country store into comfortable short-term lodging for the Gore family as their flooded home will require months of repairs.
Inside the store, Will Cooper, Lynn Hawkins and Michele White, volunteers from Monte Vista Baptist, are replacing dry wall. Todd points out that in anticipation of another flood event, the Gores decided to have a lower level of drywall installed up to a height of four feet so that it can be readily ripped out and replaced without disturbing undamaged upper portions of the wall.
David Wells, a member of the Ball Camp Baptist team from Knoxville, also serves as the Tennessee CBF Volunteer Disaster Response Coordinator. In this role, he assists Rick Bennett, the Executive Coordinator of Tennessee CBF, with mobilizing the state organization’s disaster response efforts.
With overwhelming needs due to both Hurricanes Florence and Michael, CBF volunteer response for the Whiteville area was initially slow. However, Todd, a native of East Tennessee, networked with Tennessee CBF to recruit congregations to assist with recovery in Crusoe Island and other nearby communities. Other non-CBF groups have also been coordinated by Todd and hosted by FBC Whiteville.
First Baptist Church of Whiteville – A CBF Disaster Response Host Congregation
CBF’s presence in the Crusoe community would not be possible without the role of First Baptist of Whiteville as a host congregation. Located on higher ground, First Baptist Church of Whiteville escaped flooding. With a kitchen and adequate space for lodging, the congregation opened its facilities to volunteer teams for flood recovery. A shower trailer, parked outside of the church, is available to volunteers after long, gritty days of recovery work.
First Baptist, Whiteville is the fourth congregation that Rev. Ryan Clore has served. A graduate of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond and a third-generation minister, his enthusiasm for engaging the community is obvious. He is also an encourager for Todd.
A Pastor’s Heart
Since graduating from the McAfee School of Theology, Todd has served congregations in Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina. Hurricane Michael was not his first storm, having pastored a nearby church when Hurricane Matthew affected the area in 2016.
Watching Todd engage with Crusoe residents, volunteers and other partners, it is obvious that he’s more than just a coordinator of disaster response. Reflecting God’s love, he’s a servant pastor who sensitively extends assistance and encouragement in Crusoe Island, and beyond.
Todd estimates that around eight of roughly 80 homes have been assisted so far. Obviously, there’s much more work left to do in Crusoe.
Rick Burnette is a CBF field personnel serving as the CBF Disaster Response manager. To learn more about CBF’s Disaster Response efforts and to give of your resources or time, visit www.cbf.net/dr.