Flooding is deja vu for those who survived Matthew, now Florence.
Christina Tanner had been back in her home destroyed by Hurricane Matthew floodwaters for 11 days when there was a knock at the door. It was county officials warning her to evacuate as the water was going to rise within hours.
It took two years to get back into her home after Tanner, who goes by Nickie, lost everything to the tea-stained water of the Black River that runs behind her home on Heading Bluff Road in Currie.
"You hear that water is about to come up and you don’t know if it will come up an inch or 30 feet -- but you automatically panic," Tanner said.
Rural Pender County saw some of the greatest damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in the state. As the storm system brought 30 or more inches of rain in one weekend on the Cape Fear region, officials immediately began evacuating parts of rural Pender in Burgaw, Currie, Canetuck, White Stocking and other homes along the river with a promise that waters would be higher than Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
On Friday, eight days after the Black River crested, waters were beginning to recede enough for more roads to open and for families to return home and see damages.
Waiting is torture
Matthew submerged Tanner's rental home in 2016, a large, pre-manufactured double-wide, that she was close to purchasing.
"But the flood put a stop to all of that," she said. "It was a fight to get through it everyday."
The home was raised up 23 feet on stilts -- one foot higher than the state recommended for the new flooding levels. The inside was gutted, appliances replaced and her belongings were all purchased over again.
She and her husband live with four of their youngest children and three children she adopted from a family member. Plus her elderly mom was staying in their home along with a young married couple, their infant and one-year-old. In total it was a home of 14 people and Tanner laughs that she, "never leaves a stray behind," and is always taking people in.
After two years, she was home, but the floodwaters and all the stress and anxiety they bring were back.
On Wednesday, Tanner still hadn't been able to get to the house as roads were washed out between the place she was staying in Atkinson and her home in Currie. Her husband was stranded at work in Leland and had been since the first few days after Hurricane Florence. The last report she got about her home, thanks to neighbors with a boat, was that the water had at least reached her deck.
"It's absolute torture," she said. "It causes the worst anxiety ever. The need to know what's happening -- people will put their own lives in danger and take any means necessary to get in that river and find out what their homes look like."
On Thursday, she finally had some resolve as she learned the water only crept in the home an inch or so. It was better than she expected and she didn't lose everything, but Tanner said she has lost. The cars will all have to be replaced, as will floors and some of their things. She'll have to find somewhere to stay in the meantime.
More than 3,100 buildings were affected by floodwaters in Pender County during Hurricane Florence's aftermath -- 90 of them suffering major damage, according to officials. Emergency Management Director Tom Collins said at least 42 buildings were totally destroyed. The overall number of structures affected is expected to climb to at least 5,000 as officials gain access to more areas when waters recede.
During Hurricane Matthew, the Black River crested at 19.3 feet and by Friday, Sept. 21, the river was already a foot higher than those historic levels, according to the National Weather Service. A chain reaction of floods is what can devastate the Currie and Canetuck communities and makes them so vulnerable. As the Cape Fear River floods, it pushes water into the Black River, which can also flood out the many homes that sit on Moores Creek in the area. Some are fishing cottages used only on the weekends, while others are permanent homes.
Tanner's home wasn't the only to be hit twice in two years and there were homes not even in the 500-year flood plain that had 3 to 4 feet of water in them this week, Collins said.
People forget about Currie
In the days after Matthew, Currie residents said they felt like the forgotten victims of the storm. In 2016, news cameras whipped to the hundreds of homes underwater in Lumberton, where families were waving from their rooftops for a helicopter lift to safety. Currie, an unincorporated residential community in Pender County's western corner with only a few hundreds residents, was no longer front page news, though residents there facing the same disaster. While organizations gathered donations in the wake of that storm, months down the road resources were hard to find, Tanner said.
The woes of Hurricane Florence and its floodwaters are deja vu in Currie. As Wilmington lurches forward and begins to rebuild, Currie residents, and those along the Northeast Cape Fear near Burgaw and along White Stocking Road, are just returning home to survey the damage.
This time, there were homes in the 500-year flood plain with 3 to 4 feet of water in them.
Joyce Johnson worked behind the counter of her store, Johnson's Corner Grill Wednesday where she had been everyday since Florence hit. She greeted customers who chatted with her about the storm and the floods.
Her home across the street on U.S. 421 flooded for the first time and the same floodwaters shut down the highway. She and her husband have been sleeping in the stock room of the grill every night since. When waters started coming up -- and she said they came fast and with no warning -- she was able to grab her dogs and two giant dog beds. She and her husband slept on the dog beds until a customer brought in an inflatable mattress.
One of their cooks trapped in town by floodwaters slept for four days on one of the cafe benches.
"We haven't closed yet, even though we almost ran out of food," she said. On Wednesday, their Coca-Cola case was nearly empty, but a distributor had been in to restock them with hamburger meat and hot dogs. Onion rings and french fries were being lowered into the fryer for customers at lunchtime. Normally, the grill serves up a full breakfast menu with sandwiches and pancakes, big lunches with fried catfish, Philly Cheesesteaks and even pork chops.
During the storm, they were so low on supplies they served hot dogs on regular bread. The customers, she said, didn't care but were just thrilled somewhere was open.
By Wednesday, Robin Havener was doing everything he could to keep from going crazy. Being the only person to stay behind in his home on Heading Bluff Road, some of his neighbors told Havener he already is.
"I'm a fighter," Havener explained. "I'm going to stay and protect my castle."
The StarNews followed Havener as he prepared for Hurricane Matthew and stayed behind then too. This time around, he was warned that floodwaters may reach inside his home, which sits high off the ground.
On Sunday night, he confirmed the water had come in the home about five inches. He was able to wait out the rising waters in the attic with his two cats. A generator kept a fridge cold for his insulin and his cellphone charged. By Wednesday, he had gutted the drywall and tossed it onto the side decking of his home, making his small island in the sky even smaller.
The smell, he said, is unreal, and the fire ants floating along the floodwaters had done a number on his feet. To stay sane, he had taken his boat from his upper deck out to his neighbors' homes for the past few days to check on their properties, drain their car engines of water and find any way he could to start helping in their absence.
For sale signs will go up
Havener swears he will put a for sale sign up once he gets his home put back together. He has retirement property in Virginia and he'll build up there.
"I can't keep doing this every two years," he said. "You can quote me -- a for sale sign will be going up."
Kim West and her husband Ricky who own the Currie Mini Mart on Blueberry Road may be in the same boat. After owning their dream home and losing the first story of their home during Matthew --a finished garage -- they may be selling too. This time if the the waters were higher, West feared it was in the main floor of their home.
On Tuesday, the Wests' friend Jason Green navigated a John boat down Moores Creek and into the Black River to take West to see her home for the first time. Mosquitoes swarmed their faces as they pushed off into the creek, which smelled like sewage.
With each passing home on the journey to West's home, the two long-time residents pointed out each one and shared about what the homeowners had been through. There were tales of residents dying in the aftermath of Matthew -- the mold is to blame for the death of one man who went back into his home.
The family has lived in their dream home on the water with a pool for 13 years. West's elderly mother lives on the property too. As the boat slipped under a power line and into the back yard, West could see the water had destroyed her mother's place, but water had just tickled the underside of the first floor of her home.
As she did an acrobatic move to jump from the boat to the front steps, avoiding the murky water, she rushed inside and was thrilled to see the hardwood flooring was only soaked in one small spot -- where she and her husband left a deep freezer full of ice cream in the kitchen and it had melted.
In the stairwell down to the lower level, water was still sitting on the step landing, but West was all smiles.
"God is so good," she said, raising her phone up to take pictures of the water outside. The garage level and family vehicles were a total loss, but the rest of her home was intact.
Even after the good news she vowed the family would make a move to Monkey Junction where her daughter lives.
"We just can't do this again," she said.
Reporter Ashley Morris can be reached at 910-343-2096 or Ashley.Morris@StarNewsOnline.com.