September 22, 2011
Lees-McRae students unite to assist residents of Goose Creek Island after Irene

By Robin Olson

On the morning of Saturday, August 27, the residents of Goose Creek Island were surprised by Hurricane Irene's early arrival. The hurricane reached the island seven hours before the projected time of 11 a.m.

Sabra Nethercutt, a Lees-McRae student and resident of Goose Creek Island, woke up at 4:30 a.m. to eight inches of water that had already accumulated in her front yard. By 8:30, water began seeping into Sabra's house, so she and her family began gathering canned goods, and mattresses and storing them in the attic to save them from the encroaching flood.

By early afternoon, the water was to Sabra's knees, and had reached five to six feet outside her house. The skies had cleared considerably, and most thought the storm was reaching an end. The water was deep enough that Sabra's cousin, Todd Poperwill, was able to drive his 25 ft. boat into her backyard. Todd was going to take Sabra and her family to his 50 ft. shrimping boat, so they jumped over the banister on her back porch and into the boat. "Road signs were almost underwater and the only thing you could see on my car was the top of the roof," said Sabra.

Once again, Hurricane Irene surprised Goose Island. The calm they had been experiencing was just the eye of the storm, and the second wall was about to hit. Sabra and her family boarded her cousin's bigger boat, the Miss Taylor, making a group of 14 people - five children under the age of eight, nine adults, two dogs and a cat. As the second wall of Hurricane Irene confronted the boat, nine foot waves were crashing on the port side, pinning the boat against the docks pillars and preventing the Miss Taylor from balancing itself. "There was a loose water tank under the boat that had rolled over to the starboard side, which played a major role in keeping the boat tilted."

The Miss Taylor was at such a precarious angle, that 20 minutes after boarding the boat, they made the decision to move back to the smaller 25 ft. boat. Sabra's cousin went first followed by her grandfather. He made it to the smaller boat, and while he was attempting to hold the two boats together, a large wave knocked him off the boat and into the water.

"All I could hear was my aunt screaming," said Sabra. "We couldn't find him until he stood up." Somehow, by the grace of God, Sabra's grandfather landed on the dock that was hidden under several feet of water. "I honestly thought he looked like Jesus standing on the water." After her Granddad made it safely back to the boat, Sabra turned her attention to the children with her.

After getting caught in a net and almost falling, Sabra slid down the tilted deck and began handing the children over her head to her cousin. Todd would then toss them to Sabra's boyfriend, who, in turn, would hand them to their aunt, and she kept them from sliding off the edges of the boat. By the time everyone was safely on the smaller boat, the Miss Taylor was completely sideways in the water. Todd attempted to direct the boat to the Coast Guard station around the point, but the waves had reached heights of 10 to 13 feet, which almost made the boat flip multiple times. Sabra huddled with the children, trying to keep them calm. "We prayed harder than ever."

They decided instead to turn inland where the water was much calmer; however there was still powerful winds and ice-cold rain. They stopped at her cousin's house to gather supplies, and while they were loading the boat, the water receded so quickly that the 25 ft. boat was stuck in his front yard. When the water was only ankle deep, Sabra and her family walked to Sabra's house. They were thankful to have the dry beds they saved in the attic early that morning.

The next morning, devastation caused by Hurricane Irene was evident. Sabra's kitchen ceiling caved in, and over three feet of water had accumulated in her house. "There were boats sitting the in middle of the road and in people's front yards who didn't have boats to start with," said Sabra. Goose Creek Island is home to 500 residents, and only seven homes were not flooded. Many, just like Sabra's family, lost their homes, their cars, and all of their possessions. Some are planning to leave Goose Creek Island, but most are staying and beginning to rebuild what Irene tore down.

Meanwhile, here at Lees-McRae College, students decided to unite in helping the residents of Goose Creek Island. Lindsey Bush and Emily Guenthner organized a relief effort for Sabra's community and quickly advertised the event on Facebook. "They began by asking for donations from anyone who could participate. The Bonner Leaders quickly decided to get involved soon after," said Kelsi Lane.

Kelsi and fellow Bonner, Whitney Brandon, decided to advertise to the entire campus what they were planning to do. They sent out a campus-wide email and made flyers encouraging people to donate to the cause quickly. "We only had a week to collect donations due to the extreme need of food, water, clothing, batteries, and more," said Kelsi. "Lindsey Bush, Emily Guenthner, Olivia Looney, and a few other students went to Wal-Mart and purchased over $200 in donations out of pocket." Other donations soon started pouring in.

Many students were eager to help, collecting batteries, canned food, water, clothing, feminine products, hygiene products, cleaning supplies, etc. "The Banner Elk Presbyterian Church really came through with donations," said Kelsi, "Pastor Joe [Washburn] and another member of the church decided to drive a van full of donations down to Goose Creek Island, which is roughly a six-hour drive."

On Thursday, September 8, Kelsi and Whitney headed down to the Island as well to drop off more donations and participate in the relief efforts. That Friday, they focused on helping one individual clean out his home.

"The disaster was on an enormous scale. The homes mainly suffered from flood damage. This means most of the belongings in each home had to be thrown away," explained Kelsi. "The residents were ecstatic to see the donations. A lot of them had essentially lost everything - even the basics like food and water." The America Red Cross has also been assisting the Island, supplying them with hot meals for lunch and dinner.

"Goose Creek Island is so thankful, and we greatly appreciate everything the Lees-McRae students have donated," said Sabra. However, there is still plenty to do for Goose Creek Island. They are still accepting donations, and especially need bleach, fans, packing boxes, bug spray, towels, clothing, and school supplies. If you are interested in making a donation, please contact Sabra Nethercutt (, Kelsi Lane ( or call the Pamlico Country Courthouse at (252)-745-4821.

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