Nichols woman still not back in her home one year after Hurricane Matthew

Nichols woman still not back in her home one year after Hurricane Matthew

NICHOLS, SC (WMBF) – One year later, and Estella Lee-Harrell is still waiting to get back into her home after losing it during Hurricane Matthew.

She recalled the moments her mother realized their house started taking on water as she woke Estella up yelling her name in the middle of the night.

Estella said the morning after the hurricane seemed normal, and she didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. She didn't think anything of the wet cement and puddled water outside her home during the day – but that soon changed.

She powered on her cell phone and said it lit up with messages from her friends asking if she was okay. She said she gave her friend a call who encouraged her to call for help.

"She said, 'You got a flashlight?' I said, 'Yeah' She said, 'Well take it and see if you can get somebody's attention.' So I could hear people talking and like an echo sounding down that highway so I went out with the flashlight and I'm screaming 'Help! Help! Help! Help!'" said Lee-Harrell.

Rescuers eventually came for her and her mother. The water was flooded up to Estella's waist. She soon found herself riding through the streets of Nichols in a boat, something she said she never would have imagined.

"It was like something you see on TV," said Lee-Harrell.

But this was only the beginning of Estella's year-long journey after Hurricane Matthew.

Estella said about three weeks went by before she came back to her home to salvage anything she could. "My first thought was, 'What do I do now?'" she said.

After collecting their belongings, Estella and her mother were brought to a shelter in Mullins before having to pack up and move again.

"Then they took us to the armory, National Guard, just down the road and we were there for almost a month," she said.

But it wasn't much longer before Estella's friend offered her and her mother a place to stay while they wait for their home to be renovated.

"I remember telling people in January, 'Well I hope to be back in my house by May,'" she said as she thought back.

Regardless, Estella said she feels nothing but blessed for both the volunteers and Palmetto Disaster Recovery for helping her and her mother get back on their feet.

"They've had to go to a lot of places but they've come in and done so much. My mom and I would not have been able to – you know, we got assistance from FEMA, but still, that wasn't enough to do everything that needed to be done to this house," she said.

She said watching the devastation from hurricanes in places like Houston, Texas and Puerto Rico breaks her heart because she knows what it feels like to go through something similar.

"When you look and see everything you worked for your entire life and it's gone and it's destroyed," she said.

But still, at the end of the day, she's grateful for all the volunteers, for Palmetto Disaster Recovery, and that she will soon be homeward bound.

"I still feel blessed," Lee-Harrell said, just after she let out a sigh.

Volunteers working on her house say their initial goal was to be finished with everything by January 2018, but now Estella and her mother are expected to be back in their home by the end of October.

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