After a disaster, Thanksgiving


Blessings: Despite losing nearly everything to Hurricane Floyd, a North Carolina family finds plenty to be thankful for.

November 28, 1999|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

PRINCEVILLE, N.C. -- As she blesses the food on her Thanksgiving table, Linda Worsley gives thanks "for all the changes we've gone through."

Her short, simple prayer speaks volumes. Worsley and 24 family members lost their homes in September's floods caused by Hurricane Floyd. But on Thanksgiving, instead of tallying their losses, they count their blessings.

"I'm thankful to be alive," says Helen Glass, Worsley's mother. "God brought us through that Floyd, through that water. We've had plenty to eat, plenty of clothes to wear. People have been so nice to us."

Glass, 73, usually serves Thanksgiving dinner at the Prince-ville home she and her husband, Linwood, have shared for nearly four decades. This year the venue is a much smaller frame house two miles away in Tarboro, where the family laughs and talks while enjoying turkey, dressing, ham, macaroni and cheese, collard greens and other foods and desserts.

Occasional references to Floyd's wrath don't dampen the mood. "I just believe the Lord had a reason for doing these things," Glass says. "He don't make no mistakes."

But make no mistake about it -- Worsley's family might well not have been in the mood to celebrate Thanksgiving. Besides their homes, they lost cars, clothes and precious photographs -- some taken more than 50 years ago, some just in March at a celebration of the Glasses' 50th wedding anniversary. Worsley's sister and brother-in-law, Brenda and Milton Whitehead, had only two more years of payments on their brick ranch house. Worsley had just renovated her roof and refinanced her double-wide mobile home.

And now, instead of living next door to her parents as she has for more than 20 years, Worsley calls "home" a cramped, two-bedroom apartment in Rocky Mount, about 25 minutes away.

But just as the town of Prince-ville has decided to rebuild, turning down a buyout offer from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Worsley and her family are determined not to let the events of September get the best of them.

"The main thing is being alive," says Worsley's son, Linwood "Al" Glass, whose Ford Bronco was destroyed in the storm. "We're in a different place, but everybody's here."

Princeville is the oldest town chartered by blacks in the United States, founded in 1865 by freed slaves and named Freedom Hill. It was incorporated 20 years later and renamed after Turner Prince, a founder and town commissioner. Before Hurricane Floyd, many North Carolinians hadn't heard of the town of 2,154, where the median income is about $12,000. Now many outsiders are asking why the people of Princeville rejected the federal buyout offer.

"First of all it's home, and home is where you want to come back to," says Sam Knight, planning and zoning officer. "If this place is not rebuilt, what happens to the history of the free slaves who first decided to live here? That's something that should be preserved and should be known to all Americans, but especially African-Americans."

Fifty-eight North Carolinians died during the hurricane. There were no reports of deaths in Prince-ville, but about 1,200 of the town's approximately 1,480 homes were destroyed. Less than 10 percent of those eligible filed an application for the buyout program. Town commissioners were offered a choice -- rebuild the town, or accept payment for the damage and move elsewhere. They deadlocked, 2-2, and Mayor Delia Perkins, who also lost her home, cast the deciding vote against the buyout.

Worsley, an employee of U.S. Sprint, has been a town commissioner for 11 years, at first replacing her cousin, Joanne Ruffin, who moved to Baltimore. Since serving the remaining 2 1/2 years of Ruffin's term, Worsley has been re-elected twice. She knows the town faces an uphill battle, but she's convinced that her decision was right.

Like her mother and son, Worsley was most thankful Thursday that no one in her family was harmed during Hurricane Floyd. "I'm just thankful to be here, to see all my family alive and well," she says.

After the Thanksgiving dinner, Worsley, her son, and first cousin James Jones drive through Prince-ville. Two months after the floods, it still resembles a ghost town. Houses are off their foundations, trees are uprooted and soggy clothes and furniture clutter yards. On Beasley Street, a house partially blocks the road.

Worsley hasn't gathered the strength to re-enter her house. So while her son peers through windows, even reaching in to pull out a radio scanner he used as a volunteer firefighter, she just watches.

She particularly misses her washer and dryer. The apartment she's renting for six months lacks the appliances, forcing frequent trips to the laundromat. But there's a bright side even to that, she says. Thanks to the kindness of relatives, strangers and the American Red Cross, she has clothes to wash.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.