A story of Hurricane Dorian's impact on one Ocracoke family

Stephanie O'Neal posted this to her Facebook page, and gave the Ocracoke Current permission to share it here. 

Surviving the Storm #onealstrong
I haven't updated in a good while. Mostly because I haven't been able to find the words. Ive been wanting to share our story, and I'd love to hear yours.

My recount of September 6, 2019:

It is a day I'll never forget... a Hurricane named Dorian changed my life forever. It changed my family's lives, it changed many of our friend's lives, and it changed Ocracoke forever! 

The night before the storm I made my normal before bed phone call to my mom to say good night. My niece, Nicole, with her kids, Kyler and Amaya, spent the night with me, more as a precaution than out of fear. I didn't sleep much, but I wasn't overly worried. We've been through storms whose predictions were much worse than Dorian. I expected to have some yard clean-up to do and then get back to life. I never prepared myself for what happened that morning. 

It was 7 am when I came downstairs and it was raining but nothing bad, and it felt very calm. I even took a video and the grass was still showing in my front yard. Around 8 am the tide began coming in fast, and I told Nicole we were in big trouble if it didn't stop rising soon. According to my Facebook post at 8:33 am, my downstairs was flooded. We had retreated to the upstairs with the kids. I went back downstairs to get one of my cats that had gotten stranded on the couch. I could see that the water was up to the headlights in my truck parked across the street. At its highest the water was nearly knee-deep inside my house. 

Shortly thereafter, when we were unsure if the water was going to keep rising or not, my brother Albert and sister-in-law Teresa swam/walked in neck-deep water from their house to mom and dad's house. Teresa stayed with mom and dad while Albert swam/walked to The Island Inn to get his boat.

Albert picked me up off of my front porch in his boat. I estimate the water was 5.5 ft deep in my front yard. We headed to get mom and dad. I took a short video of our boat ride. When we arrived at mom and dad's, it was frightening. I jumped off in the front yard to go inside and the water was up to my neck (I'm 5'8"). I went in the back door and the water was waist deep. Teresa was sitting in the kitchen chair surrounded by water, and as I went down the hall mom and dad were on the bed with their cat, with water approximately 6-8 inches from reaching them.

I knew that Albert, Teresa, and I couldn't get them in the boat by ourselves so I called Noel and asked if any of her crew could assist. And assist they did! Daniel, Donald, and Perry were there within minutes. Soon thereafter Jesse and Diego arrived in Jesse's boat. Those heroes got dad in his wheelchair and lifted him in Jesse's boat, and off they went to the fire department.

Donald Austin, and his son, Perry, to the rescue!
Donald Austin, and his son, Perry, to the rescue!

Donald and Perry stayed behind with us to get mom in Albert's boat. Then Albert, Teresa, Donald, Perry, and myself headed to the fire department. This is all happening in the middle of the storm. The wind was treacherous, but we didn't care – there were lives to be saved! Albert and I then left the fire department to head back to my house, get Nicole and the kids and get Sunshine (mom and dad's cat)......you see we had no idea at the time if the tide was just going to keep rising or not! By the time we were headed back to the fire department, the water was receding, thank God, but dad's breathing machine (bipap) had been flooded and wouldn't work properly. Boats were of no use to us by then because the water had receded to the point that it was too shallow to operate them. So Chad and I set off walking in thigh-deep water back to mom and dad's to try and retrieve an extra bipap to see if it would work. We weren't sure if it was flooded or not but it was worth the risk. Dad was not breathing well. 

Sometime during our journey down point to mom and dad's Albert and Ernie were able to make contact with the USCG Helicopter that was flying over. The only problem was.....there wasnt a dry spot on the island for them to land. After circling the island they landed on the Ocracoke Community Park ball field. Thank God for that ball field....it probably saved dad's life. It all happened really fast from there. We packed mom and dad on Grant's truck and headed to the ballfield where the helicopter was waiting. They took mom and dad to New Bern Hospital where he stayed for 5 days. It was heartbreaking to see them fly off and know I couldn't be with them, but from what I had already seen, I knew Ocracoke was ground zero, and I would be needed to help begin not only my family's recovery, but my friends and neighbors' recovery. I knew mom and dad were in good hands because Eddie and Pam were on the way to meet them in New Bern. 

Surviving the Storm #onealstrong
With mom and dad in good hands, I went into survival mode. It was time to go to work. Erin and I and several others worked feverishly at the Fire Department for the next two days just trying to help the good people of Ocracoke. Once others began to step up and volunteer we had to move on and begin addressing the 5 houses in our immediate family that were flooded. 

From there it's been a series of good days and bad. We've been blessed with a roof over our heads and many people both near and far stepping in to help us. We have a long way to go, but it's amazing how far we've come. 

Being human, I've fought being angry and bitter, but what I've recently realized is being bitter is the easy road... instead... today I'm choosing to be grateful and thankful! It wont be easy... none of this is easy! I'm choosing today to be #ocracokestrong and #onealstrong.

If you'd like to help, there is a gofundme set up for Nicole and her children hereand for Stephanie and her parents here.