Countless Onslow residents have stepped up to help others, even when their own homes and properties received damage from Hurricane Florence. One community leader said these people, the neighbors helping neighbors, are the real heroes of the story.

In the aftermath of any disaster, Onslow rallies.

For every flooded floor, drooped ceiling, and damaged roof there’s been a friend, a neighbor, or a stranger willing to step up and offer food, water, shelter, or even just a kind word.

Many community leaders, from utility workers to restaurant owners to government employees, suffered their own home damages in the storm - but they don’t let on.

In fact, when asked about their own personal predicaments, every single one of them started talking about the kindness of others.

“The heroes in this community is the neighbors helping neighbors,” said Onslow County Communications Director Cornelius Jordan. “The heroes in this story is our community … Onslow is the hero.”

An emotional situation

Utility employees are working nearly around the clock to repair damages and ensure Onslow residents are taken care of in terms of water and power.

Employees have started sleeping at the company buildings, some of whom didn’t have much of a choice.

One such person is Mark Young, the wastewater treatment plant supervisor for ONWASA. Young lives in a first-floor condo in Cedar Point and Florence brought storm surges and flooding to his home for the second time in six years.

Jeff Hudson, the CEO of ONWASA, asked Young if he could describe his home. Choking up, Young whispered, “I can’t.”

He instead started praising his employees, two of whom were at the Richlands wastewater plant when floodwaters started rising and needed swift water rescue to get out.

“I worked all day trying to get them rescued,” Young said.

Hudson asked if Young needs anything now, and he replied that he needs laundry done. He went through three uniforms on Monday working at the plant with 18 inches of water remaining at the time.

Young was able to talk about his home a little, saying the floor is buckling from water damage and due to damage on the floors above his, the ceiling in his condo is damaged, too.

Apologizing for getting emotional, looking around the administration building of the wastewater treatment plant, Young said, “I pretty much live here.”

Living at work

Young is far from the only ONWASA employee who suffered home damages and has continued to work for the community in lieu of handling personal matters, Hudson said.

That includes Hudson himself.

Though he doesn’t live in a flood zone, Hudson said the waters reached up about 3 feet inside his garage, though thankfully it didn’t get inside his house.

To make matters worse, Hudson is sporting a beige bandage on his right arm. He went to his home earlier this week to put fans out and tried to take a bag of trash to the curb. The bag had glass inside and he cut his arm, sending him to Onslow Memorial Hospital for three stitches.

Like others, Hudson immediately moved on to talk about other stories he’s heard.

“So many people were worse off than me,” he said. “I’ve got employees who have lost everything.”

Hudson has been living at ONWASA since Sept. 12 and said the IT director, whose home is flooded, is sleeping down the hall from him. The director’s wife had to leave their home as well and slept at ONWASA for a couple of nights. While there, Hudson said she helped feed employees and did “anything asked of her” to help out.

Outside his company, Hudson said he got protein bars and bananas at Sam’s Club, non-perishables and paper products from Piggly Wiggly and to-go plates from Golden Corral.

“I cannot repair a water line,” Hudson said. “But I can make sure (my employees) have everything they need.”

Feeding the masses

Golden Corral has come up again and again in conversations for stepping up to feed the hungry.

“We fed about 1,000 meals a day for lineworkers, city personnel, and ONWASA,” said Billy Sewell, president of Platinum Corral.

But Sewell didn’t come out of the storm unscathed, either. He’ll have to remove sheet rock, floors, and ceilings in his home due to water damage.

“We’ve got about five rooms to redo, so to speak, and fix roof damage,” he said. “We’ve got a whole lot less inconvenience than people who don’t have houses, so we’ll make due.”

At the same time, he’s sold food to Golden Corral customers at a reduced price and had to-go plates made, including fixing 250 meals twice a day for Jacksonville officials from Sept. 12-18, in addition to getting food to ONWASA and giving their staff meal tickets to enjoy the dinner buffet.

Sewell said since opening post-storm, he’s heard a lot of stories about people who lost everything.

“It could have been a lot worse,” Sewell said of his home.

He, too, has experienced the kindness of others. Fifteen Golden Corral employees from across the state have come in to help prepare food, and cafeteria workers from Onslow County Schools are now working to help prepare meals at the restaurant while schools are closed.

Sewell praised Great Gas and Oil for supplying gas for his generators to keep the restaurant going until the power came back on. The company has also been supplying fuel for JOEMC and Duke Energy, as well as Jacksonville, until additional resources came in, he said.

Sewell also reached out to Southwest High School and asked for any football players who didn’t have a place to stay or who were without power. Since all school activities have been cancelled while the schools are closed, Sewell offered them a chance to come in and work in return for a free meal, and he’s had five or six players take him up on the offer daily.

Jerome Williams, a 17-year-old Southwest High School senior who plays offense for the football team, was with a couple of others at Sewell's house on Friday afternoon cleaning up debris, raking pine straw, and clearing out torn-down limbs from the yard.

"We don't have school so we're just trying to help the community," Williams said.

Jakoby Johnson, a 19-year-old Southwest HS graduate who was also at Sewell's helping out Friday, agreed.

"Why not come out here?" Johnson said, grinning. "I didn't have anything else to do and I'm helping the community."

Williams, whose house had water damage to the walls and a caved-in garage, said he's been helping out at Golden Corral since Monday and in the yard at Sewell's since Thursday.

“Everybody pitches in to help everywhere they can,” Sewell said.

Heroes of Onslow

Jordan didn’t have time to look at his home until five days after Florence hit Onslow County, and he only went there to pick up more clothes before heading back to the county’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

He was so tired he fell asleep on the floor.

Jordan has some flooding in his home, but his family evacuated before the storm hit and it gave him one less thing to worry about, he said.

At the EOC, he was with telecommunicators and members of county departments, all of whom have benefited from the kindness of the community.

On one occasion, Jordan said a group of telecommunicators went out looking for milkshakes and a break. They drove into the Cook Out parking lot where a manager told them they weren’t open.

The manager learned they were 9-1-1 operators and told him he’d had to call in during the storm when he was stranded and needed rescuing, Jordan said. One of the telecommunicators in the backseat popped out, recognizing the story, and told him she was the one he spoke with.

Jordan said the two hugged and cried as he thanked her for saving him. He then went inside and gave the group all the leftover food and milkshakes the restaurant had.

“That right there gave them the power to go back in that room,” Jordan said.

Giving food became a common thread in the kindness Jordan found. Piggly Wiggly allowed the county to come into the electric-less store to pick out groceries by flashlight for Onslow County shelters. Golden Corral has delivered to-go plates, Olive Garden gave salad and breadsticks, and Cici’s brought more than two dozen pizzas, among many others who have stepped up to help.

Kids also delivered handmade cards to the EOC to thank everyone for their hard work, Jordan said, and he’s heard about people offering others extra water and dozens of other stories about what he called “invisible services” offered within the community.

It’s them, not just the government officials or department heads or even first responders who shone so brightly in the darkness the last week has been, Jordan said.

“The people in this room, they’re gonna do it. They’re gonna execute. You expect that, but do you expect a restaurant to say, ‘Hey guys, let’s make 25 pizzas and give it away for free?’” Jordan said. “The thing is, Restore Onslow, as we’re calling it, is not just rebuilding structures … it’s getting people to really focus back on what we are, and we’re a caring community.”


City Editor Amanda Thames can be reached at 910-219-8467 or