For years, Stacy and Michael Strong walked by a home on Quail Lane and admired it from the outside. From the look of it, to the location and style –– they loved it all. More than three years ago, as Stacy was heading out for her walk, she told Michael that she was just going to stop by and inquire about the home belonging to Dr. George Lippard. Since Stacy had a casual acquaintance with George through often seeing him outside and through mutual friends, she felt comfortable in the unannounced visit.
When George heard the knock on his front door, he knew it must be someone trying to sell something or someone at the wrong house because everyone who knew him would come to the side door. When he looked out of the keyhole and saw the “cute blonde” standing at the door, he was certain she was at the wrong house. “I opened the door, and she said, ‘I know this is an unusual request, but I walk by your house every day on my morning walk, and I have admired it since I first saw it. If you ever think about selling it, will you consider me?’”
“I said, ‘Yes, why not? Since you’re here, you might as well look around,’” George explains. For more than 45 minutes, George showed Stacy around the home.
“Dr. Lippard was so nice to show me around. I learned so much about him and his family,” says Stacy. After that, the two went on with their lives. The next time Stacy would step foot into the lovely home would be after it was devastated in the October floods.
George had been visiting with his good friend and neighbor, Sylvia Anne Derrick, on the morning of Oct. 4. He learned that church had been cancelled due to the floods so he decided to enjoy a cup of coffee and read the paper at her house. Around 9 a.m., another neighbor came over looking for him after stopping by George’s home. Columbia officials were planning to evacuate everyone on the street because another dam was about to break, so George quickly went home to prepare for what was coming. At that point, the water was about 1 inch from getting into his home, and there was little time to react. The neighbors helped George move items that were on the floor to higher ground, and then he and Sylvia Anne caught a ride out of the neighborhood with a friend. Around 2 p.m. that day, the waters had receded enough to allow George to get back into the house and survey the damage. While numerous items were saved, thanks to their initial efforts, many precious belongings were lost.
“I had about 8 to 10 inches of water, which was enough to mess up everything –– the heating, the cooling, the furniture, everything in a bottom drawer. A lot of things went by the wayside,” says George. “We had to laugh that at least we were able to save my golf clubs.”
It was a process that thousands of survivors of October’s severe flooding had to deal with on some level. There was fear of losing loved ones, fear of rising waters and breaking dams and fear of losing it all. While some Columbia residents had only minor damage to their homes, many others lost everything, having to tear down their homes and sort through items while choking back tears at the memories that were now soaked in water, dirt and debris. Trying to salvage family heirlooms and precious photos was just another kick to the gut of the already-heartbroken residents of so many of Columbia’s neighborhoods.
According to the Department of Insurance, more than 5,200 claims were filed and reported through FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program and more than 65,500 non-NFIP claims were filed. While nearly 100 percent of those claims have been closed, the road ahead is still long for many. As of August 2016, according to the South Carolina Emergency Management Division, more than 28,000 survivors have received disaster assistance through FEMA totaling more than $89 million.
“The programs that we facilitate are based on the uninsured impact of the disaster,” says Kim Stenson, director of the South Carolina Emergency Management Division. “This assistance includes temporary rental assistance, repair of uninsured damages to the home to make the home safe and other needs that are determined on an individual basis.” To be sure, the need has been great, the impact immeasurable, and the resolve unmatched.
Certainly, the impact on George was immense, and while he loved his home, rebuilding was not an option he was willing to consider. “At my age, I just didn’t want to go through that,” he says. He had the home cleaned of mold and mildew, but the unusually hot and wet fall months would make the process more difficult.
Instead, after knowing each other for 56 years and dating for 14, George and Sylvia Anne decided to get married. They met with George’s minister and set up a date to be married on December 16. “On that day at noon, we took our vows and then took my minister out to lunch. I asked him if he had ever married an 84 year old and a 79 year old before, and he said he didn’t think so!” laughs George.
When George decided to sell the home, he wouldn’t let his realtor put a sign in the front yard until he first contacted Stacy to see if, after all that had occurred, she was still interested in buying his home. “About three weeks after the flood, I saw Stacy and said, ‘Well, are you still interested?’” George says with a laugh. “She said, ‘Well, I might be!’ One thing led to another, and she and Michael purchased the house.”
When the Strongs learned the home they had admired for so many years could actually be theirs, they were both excited and a little hesitant. “We had never gone through a renovation of this magnitude,” says Stacy. “But we loved the house, we loved the neighborhood, and we kept thinking of how wonderful it would be to raise our family here.”
In March 2016, after Stacy and Michael purchased the partially demolished home, they began to make it their own. At the time they purchased it, the floors and everything directly affected by the flood had been removed. After that, they took out the ceilings and the remaining walls and had the home cleaned again so the framing could be treated as well. They brought in Jim Evatt and his team at Palmetto Construction & Renovations to manage the rebuild. “Jim keeps us grounded,” says Stacy. “He takes older homes and makes them new again. He brought this home back to life.”
But before Jim and his team could begin the renovations, they had some challenges to overcome. Because of the location of the home, they had to bring in fill dirt and get engineers involved in the process to ensure the site was suitable to build on. “The renovation presented a different set of challenges to make sure the home would remain on good solid ground,” says Jim. After ensuring the foundation was sound, the work inside of the home could begin.
The Strongs took the opportunity to make some changes in the home so that it functions well for their family. They removed walls in an effort to create an open space and expanded the kitchen so that it now opens into the family room. “The kitchen is still the central part of the house where people want to gather. Big kitchens with big islands that can hold big crowds,” says Jim. “We also created a lot of light and openness with the addition of French doors that open onto the deck.”
The Strongs added a new master suite, complete with a walk-in closet, laundry room, bathroom and bedroom that leads onto the expansive deck. They turned what was once the master bathroom into a jack-and-jack bathroom for their boys and divided some of the existing bedrooms to fit their needs. While the interior may look different, the exterior of the home looks just like the house that Stacy and Michael walked by and admired for so many years.
Now the one doing the walking by is George, who lives only a half block away with his new bride as they create a new life together. While George is moving on, much of his life was spent in the home on Quail Lane, and he now makes a point to visit his old home and survey the progress almost every day. “Dr. Lippard has such a wonderful attitude,” says Jim. “He has been excited every step of the way. He is enthusiastic to see the house continue to have a purpose and checks in with us on a regular basis.” The home, just like George, is now enjoying a new beginning.
Many families in Columbia are also making new beginnings as a result of the floods and their enormous impact. While Jim and his team have worked on only two homes affected by the flood, he has seen a common theme for many families who are either rebuilding or who have purchased a flood-damaged home, and that is to go ahead and make the best of a bad situation.
“If renovating wasn’t already in their thoughts, most people are trying to take a positive approach and make some changes that perhaps they wouldn’t have thought about making before,” says Jim. He is still impressed with the collaborative efforts that were on display after the flood. “First and foremost, I think most people did a really good job of getting everything that was wet out of the house,” he says. “But it was the huge volunteer efforts –– the masses of people that rolled up their sleeves and helped friends, family and strangers get things out of their homes so that they could begin the drying process.” And, for so many, the healing process as well.
For whether the damage was minimal or catastrophic, whether Columbia residents were heavily impacted or not at all, everyone has a story of where they were when it happened. And just like it was back in October 2015, Columbia residents are rebuilding with the support of a close-knit community –– one helping hand at a time.