Mount Holly recovers after the flood

by Sarah Melton

Flood waters submerged the area outside of Side Trax Sports Bar & Food and Love Home Improvements on West Central Avenue in Mount Holly. (Courtesy of Scott Griffin)

“It looked like something out of the Titanic.”
That is how Vicki McManus described her business, SideTrax Sports Bar & Food, after seeing a massive flood rip apart almost everything she and her husband, Dean, had worked to build in downtown Mount Holly. SideTrax was one of five businesses on West Central Avenue that suffered damage during heavy rain on Aug. 5.
McManus was supposed to meet a delivery driver at her restaurant a few hours before opening at 4 p.m. But when she arrived all she could see was several feet of water splashing against her windows, debris and trashcans floating in the road. Emergency workers were up to their waist in water checking the row of buildings to make sure no one was trapped inside.
“I called my husband and said, ‘You aren’t going to believe this. We are flooded,’” McManus said. “He said, ‘What do you mean flooded?’ I went to get Dean and by the time I got back, we were able to go inside our building.”
The McManuses were not prepared for what they saw inside. Tables and chairs were floating around and an ice machine and refrigerator were on the ground. A pizza machine and fryer were saturated. Pool tables were covered with mud. The wooden bar had been turned upside down. All of the food and alcohol were destroyed. Doors, floors and a portion of the walls will need to be repaired.
“When you first walk in, it’s so devastating that your heart sinks,” McManus said. “You want to cry. You want to scream. But it won’t do any good.”
The McManuses estimated damages between $40,000 and $50,000. They have no flood insurance.
“I’d like to tell you we’d be open in a week, but we are probably looking at close to the first of September, maybe longer,” McManus said. “Depends on what we can do about buying the food and alcohol … and coming up with the means to do all that.”
The McManuses have tried to keep a positive attitude with the help of their community, customers and employees. Many people have stopped by to help clean, bring food and loan out equipment. They’ve offered a lot of spiritual healing, too.
“I’d like to thank everybody who has helped us, who have been supporting us and praying for us,” McManus said. “We’ll be open as soon as we can. Don’t forget we are still here when all this is over.”

Surviving the storm
Peggy Putnam’s quick thinking not only saved her life, but the life of a little girl, too.
She and the child were at the Community Relief Organization when the water started seeping in the front and back of the building. Both doors were stuck and bars run across the windows so exit seemed impossible. Putnam knew she and the little girl were in trouble when tables began floating and freezers filled with food started falling over.
Putnam placed the little girl on a high shelf, while she clung onto the second shelf as the water rose up to her chin. Putnam’s clothes were soaked and weighing her down, making it hard to move. But she tried to remain calm for the frightened little girl.
“The little girl said, ‘Can I call my mom?” and I said, ‘Yeah, but we really need to call somebody who can help us. How about saying a little prayer?”
Emergency workers arrived and broke the glass on the front door to rescue Putnam and the child. One firefighter carried the girl out in his arms. Putnam and the girl were immediately wrapped in warm blankets and evaluated by paramedics. They were not hurt.
“I have never been happier to see those firemen,” Putnam said.
A few hours later, Putnam returned to the building to see the aftermath of the flood. All of the food stored in the freezers and refrigerators and on bottom shelves were ruined. Records, electronics and furniture were destroyed. Another building used to store clothing and some canned and dry goods remained untouched.
Putnam said the sight was heartbreaking, especially since the help group has no flood insurance. But her concerns primarily centered on how the organization was going to provide food, clothing and help with utility bills to its 300 to 500 clients per month. The Community Relief Organization usually gives out 8,000 pounds of food per month, but has averaged 12,000 pounds per month this year due more people needing assistance in a struggling economy.
“The community has always been supportive of us, but this time, they are coming together with donations,” said Putnam, a case worker for the organization. “I don’t know how much we have, but we have had a lot of financial donations.”
The City of Mount Holly is allowing the help group to use a space in the former Town Hall, now occupied by the Mount Holly Historical Society, and soon, the Mount Holly Tourism Development Authority, until a decision is made about the downtown space.
“I know the city will let us use that building as long as we need to,” Putnam said. “We are just taking it one step at a time until we get where we need to be.”

Flood damage inside a storage room at the Mount Holly Community Relief Organization. (Courtesy of Scott Griffin)

Starting over
Betty Love could hear her daughter and sister screaming for help on the telephone as the water continued to rise inside Love Home Improvements.
Love’s daughter, Tracie Clontz, and sister, Brenda Vann, were on the telephone with 911 operators, unaware that Love could hear them through her phone. Clontz and Vann were trapped inside a room and holding their dogs above the four feet of water.
Melvin Bass, the company’s carpenter, showed up just as Clontz and Vann were on the phone with 911. He managed to get a back door open, remove debris that was keeping it shut and guide Clontz, Vann and the two dogs out to safety.
“We love Melvin,” Love said. “He has been with us for years. The girls are like, ‘He’s our hero’ and they know that. If Melvin had not come, it could have turned out so much worse. You can replace things, but you can’t replace people.”
Love, and her husband, Johnny, have found a temporary location a few blocks away while they rebuild the business, which specializes in roofing, siding and window repairs and installation. Like the McManuses, they also did not have flood damage. They suspect damage estimates will run into the thousands.
The only items saved from the flood were a few desks and some tools. The rest is gone.
“It was like starting an entire office in one day when I went to Wal-Mart and realized I needed everything down to a paper clip,” Love said. “I’ve been calling our suppliers and trying to salvage what documents we can that aren’t covered in mud.”
Although the Loves enjoy their new digs, they plan to reopen in their West Central Avenue location as soon as possible. They want to have a storefront, be visible to the community and continue to be a part of the downtown atmosphere.
“We are real strong people of faith and it’s like, well, you start over,” Love said. “A lot of the other businesses on the street seemed more devastated than us.”

Picking up the pieces
As business owners try to rebuild their livelihoods, they are seeking help from the city.
On Aug. 8, Love, Putnam and McManus spoke to the city council during the public comment portion of the meeting. They asked the city to consider helping not only their businesses, but also others on the block affected by the storm.
“My husband and myself have everything invested down there to try to be part of this community and support Mount Holly,” McManus said. “We hope you will stand up and help us because we want to be here years from now to stand up and help you all.”
On Aug. 11, city staff, Mayor Bryan Hough, council members Jim Hope and Carolyn Breyare and several community organizations met to discuss the possibility of helping the businesses as they recover from such an unexpected ordeal.
“I think there has to be a fine balance of how do we help the nonprofit organizations versus the for-profit businesses and if we are willing to help them, are we willing to do it for everyone,” Hough said. “Obviously, this is bad and we are going to do everything we can to help.”
Leigh Brinkley, who heads up the city’s farmers market, agreed that the needs of the affected businesses should to be balanced.
“When I think of a quarter of the downtown not being used, that is a large chunk of Mount Holly,” she said. “I think we are going to be short-sighted for Mount Holly in general if we don’t figure out how to work privately and publicly together and help get those businesses the needs that they have.”
Community Relief Organization volunteer Jason Bryant said damages were estimated from $75,000 to $125,000. The building will need some major repairs, but may also not be worth salvaging if the work is too costly. In that case, the help agency would need to find a new home.
“We need funds,” Bryant said. “We’ll have manpower needs as the situation develops, but if someone had $20 they wanted to give, we’d rather see it in check or cash than green beans.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will replace the food it provided to organization prior to the storm. Many local churches and other organizations offered to host food drives and fundraisers for it.
The city staff, council members and local organizations decided to host several fundraisers for the Community Relief Organization. The most recent fundraiser will be a concert on Sept. 23 at an indoor location, possibly the Mount Holly Municipal Complex, with the band, The Tams. Admission would be charged and proceeds would benefit the Community Relief Organization.
“I don’t know if any funds will be coming from the state or federal level to help us out,” Hough said. “If it does, that will be a huge relief. I think we have a lot of unanswered questions, but I don’t want that to keep us from taking action.”

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