My name is Audrey Hill and I was raised in Poquoson until I married in 1970. All of my relatives were born and raised in the Poquoson area. My father, William J. Martin passed away in 1998, but, my mother, Marie Martin; and my brother, William Martin, Jr. were natives of Poquoson until Hurricane Isabel came. Needless to say, because they were two of the originals there, they decided like many other Poquoson residents to remain in their own home during the hurricane. They thought, as many others did, that the hurricane probably would not amount to much flooding. They were also reluctant to leave behind their possessions.
I live in North Carolina now, but being raised in Poquoson and having been through floods and hurricanes in the past, (none of course as devastating as Isabel) I knew to watch everything I could to see what was happening concerning this hurricane.
The weather reports that we were receiving all night long in North Carolina, the night before Hurricane Isabel reached land, were a lot worse than anyone was expecting. On Thursday, the day of the hurricane, I called my sister early in the morning. Electricity all over that area was out, but the telephones were still working. I called my mother and she told me that my brother and her were alright, but she said that the wind was really getting bad .Immediately after our conversation, the phone lines went out. It was several hours before I was able to get any more information about their condition. I was very scared, but I was finally able to make contact with my niece, who lived in Hampton. Somehow, certain telephones in that area were still working. The news that I received from her was not good, she told me that she had talked with my sister on her cellular phone, who lived 3 houses from our mother on Messick Road, and she could see the flood waters rising as high as our mother's bedroom windows. Later, we found out that the water was up about 4 1/2 feet inside her house.
Finally, on Friday, my sister called me on her cellular phone and told me that things were really bad in Poquoson, but as far as she knew, everyone seemed to be alright. Neither my mother or brother were physically able to help each other. My mother is a shut-in and my brother was unable to walk at the time. Their house had 2 stories, but they were unable to go upstairs because of their conditions. They later told me that they thought for sure that they were going to die, because the water kept rising, and the only thing that they could do was keep their heads above the water. This went on for several hours.
I, and my husband had determined to head straight to Poquoson on that Thursday, but, every route and highway toward the Poquoson and Tidewater area were closed because of downed trees, telephone and power lines, and floods. We kept calling the highway patrol until they finally told us Sunday afternoon that the roads were opened enough to get through.
My husband A.C., his sister, and myself left High Point, N.C. late on Sunday afternoon. We knew that things would be a lot worse the closer we got to Poquoson. All along Interstate 85 we saw debris and uprooted trees everywhere. When we finally reached our exit at South Hill, Va., it began to look really bad, and from South Hill to Poquoson, the things that we saw were almost unbelievable.
Finding a gas station was almost impossible and that was one thing that we never considered when we left our house. We finally did find a place in Suffolk and filled up, and it seemed to me that everybody from everywhere was there. As we got nearer to Poquoson, we had talked about what we would probably see and we knew that it had to be devastating by what we had seen thus far. Nothing can describe what we later saw.
A curfew was in place for 11 pm for Poquoson and surrounding areas, and because of our late start and highway conditions, we were unable to reach our destination in time. Finding a motel was almost impossible but, after a search that lasted for several hours, we did finally get a room in Williamsburg. It was Monday morning when we were able to enter Poquoson and we could hardly believe our eyes. Someone has said that it reminded them of a war zone, and they were right. It was a very sad sight to see. All of my family and friends had lost almost all of their homes and possessions, everything was ruined. Power lines were down everywhere, trees were uprooted, and a lot of trees laying across houses, automobiles flooded, all kinds of household furnishings and debris along the roadside. Everybody was hit very hard, most of them had lost everything that they had, and the faces we saw had a look of disbelief, grief, and everybody seemed to be walking around in a daze. I became really scared because the closer we got to Messick Road, the more I became afraid of what we might find.
We arrived at my mother's house and when I saw her and my brother, I was shocked beyond belief, the inside of the house was filled with the smell of fuel oil and seawater, and my mother was sitting in the kitchen crying and saying "I've lost everything, what are we going to do?" I have never been more heart sick nor heart broken in all of my life; I cried with her and tried my best to tell her that everything would be alright. My mother and brother were still wearing the same clothes that they had on when the hurricane hit 5 days before because all of their other clothing had been ruined and everything was soaking wet with seawater and fuel oil. Luckily, we had stopped at Wal-Mart in South Hill and bought some things for them. My husband's sister who had made the trip with us, and his other sister from Hampton went out that evening and were able to buy more clothes, pillows, sheets, food, and whatever else they could to help. Different people had been bringing water and food to them. It was late on that Monday evening before we were finally able to fix them a dry place to sleep, but, for the first time in 5 days, they were dry and safe.
We stayed in Virginia for 2 weeks and during that time, my husband and I had started immediately to help. I made contact with FEMA and my mother's insurance company, while my husband and a few others removed the contents of the house and placed it on the roadside. During these 2 weeks, I can honestly say that I have never seen a town nor a bunch of people come together and pull together to help one another like the people of Poquoson did..! could never begin to thank all of the families, friends, churches, organizations, Police and Fire Departments, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the City of Poquoson, the National Guard, our son and 2 of my brother-in-laws from North Carolina, my niece from Hampton, and everyone else for the way that they gave and kept giving and kept helping until some order was finally restored and everyone in desperate need was helped.
Since my mother had lost everything that she had, and her house was damaged beyond repair, I began to talk to her and my brother about moving to North Carolina with us. They had been offered temporary shelter by several organizations, but, because of their health conditions, they were not physically able to make several moves. Choosing to leave Poquoson and the area where they had lived all of their lives was very, very difficult, but everyone agreed that it was the very best thing to do under the circumstances.
I began making telephone calls to our daughter, friends, and church family, to ask them to look for a house in the High Point, N.C. area, and to find furniture and other household items. During this time, we began to salvage what little bit of stuff that we could to take with them.
For 2 weeks, we threw away a lot of precious memories, and found out that there was very little left to keep. This was one of the saddest times for my mother, my brother, and myself.
At the end of the 2 weeks everything had worked out a lot better than any of us could have ever anticipated. My daughter and a special friend found a house only a few minutes from where I live. Other folks had come together and found and donated everything from appliances, to household furniture and were waiting for our arrival. To have everything work out the way it did was a real miracle.
My mother and brother have a nice, dry house now, and they are comfortable, and are trying to get adjusted to their new life. Since we are living so close together now, I am able to visit them everyday and help take care of them.
I appreciate this opportunity to tell my story, for this is a way for me to thank everyone who helped make it possible and to give our story a happy ending. However, my heart goes out to a lot of other people in Poquoson and other areas who are still trying to put their lives back together.
Our thoughts and prayers are continually with them and everyone else who was affected by Hurricane Isabel. God bless you all.
Audrey Martin Hill