Although she stayed in Chapel Hill last week, Ward’s family didn’t evacuate for the storm. They stayed in their home during Hurricane Matthew in 2016, as did many residents of their neighborhood, and suffered no major damage.
At the beginning of the storm, Ward’s family was more concerned about wind damage than water. After a tree in their yard fell – away from the direction of their house – they thought they had avoided the worst of it.
“We were like, ‘Awesome, we’re in the clear. That was the one thing we were super worried about, we’re gonna be fine.” Ward said.
Ward’s neighborhood is not in a floodplain, she said, and flooding hadn’t ever been much of an issue.
“Some of (the residents) have flood insurance, some of them don’t.” Ward said. “It’s not required, or even suggested. We were told we didn’t need it.”
The Cape Fear River is expected to crest on Friday at 61.5 feet, according to the National Weather Service.That's just 7.4 feet under the all-time record– 68.9 feet, following a catastrophic flood in 1945.
On Sunday, Ward said she got a text from her mother that the water was up to the front porch steps.
“She said we had about two feet left before it got in the house.” Ward said. “They didn’t know when the river was supposed to crest.”
The next night, the water was at her family’s front door. At that point, they started moving everything they could to a space above the garage, where it would stay dry.
Ward has a younger sister, who’s staying with a family friend as her parents tend to their home. To get to the neighborhood entrance, Ward’s sister took a canoe, traveling over the now-flooded streets to where the road is dry.
“She’s 15,” Ward said of her sister. “She’s at that age where material possessions are like, still super important… My mom didn’t want her to have to see all of her clothes in her room get swallowed by water.”
Ward’s parents have worked to save not only their belongings but those of their neighbors, she said. Her father and his friends have been out at all hours of the day, carrying their neighbors’ things by boat to the neighborhood entrance. In the less flooded areas, they’ve cut a path through the trees and pack everything they can into a neighbor's Jeep, said Ward.
Despite their efforts to save as many belongings as possible, it will likely be another two weeks before the water subsides, Ward said – by which point her family home will be ruined by mold and water damage.
“We’re expected to still get about another foot of water, which will basically put the water up to the countertops in our house.” she said. “We have to find a (new) place to live, and probably rebuild our house entirely.”
It’s been challenging for Ward, who has limited communication with her mother and the rest of her family as they recover from the damage. Ward’s extended family lives in Columbus County, another area heavily affected by the storm.
“It’s difficult to not know what’s going on because, on top of everything that’s happening, my mom has super limited cell phone service,” Ward said. “Not only am I here and they’re there, but I’m here and I don’t really know anything.”
While Ward has spent class periods checking her phone for updates on her family’s situation, she said it’s been strange to hear other people discuss the storm.
“It’s really difficult to sit in class when everyone in class is talking about how they didn’t have Wi-Fi for three days, and how traumatic that was for them,” she said.
To help her family from afar, Ward has started a GoFundMe campaign to aid in her parents’ financial recovery from the sudden loss. The campaign, launched Wednesday, has already raised over $1,300.
Ward said she’s avoided telling her father about the campaign, but first tossed the idea out to her mother and was surprised by her response.
“She said yes,” Ward said. “And that’s kind of when I knew, honestly, that things were bad. Because if they weren’t she would have never accepted that help.”
Chapel Hill emerged from Florence with minimal damage, though some areas of the town were affected by flooding. But it’s important to remember, Ward said, that not every area of North Carolina was as fortunate.
For now, Ward is continuing her routine at UNC while doing everything she can to help her family back home. This weekend, she hopes to visit her sister and take her to the mall to buy new clothes.
“Literally all of my family has been affected in one way or the other by this storm,” Ward said. “And for life to be so normal here, like it never ever happened, is surreal, kind of, to live through.”