Sandy survivor's home rescued from demolition

FREEPORT, N.Y. (BP) -- Hurricane Sandy survivor Cecelya Morsby faced near eviction in March from her flood-ravaged home.

More than two years after the superstorm's onslaught, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers learned of her circumstances and came to her aid in the coastal Long Island town of Freeport.

Morsby's home of 16 years was one of about 4,000 damaged by ocean waters that moved inland for about one mile during the hurricane, flooding almost every structure in the town of 50,000.

Morsby, a retiree from a major car company, evacuated her home and lived with her daughter in Manhattan for most of the time after the storm. Afflicted with chronic illnesses, Morsby also underwent vascular surgery and was unable to tend to her home for needed repairs.

Long Island homeowner Cecelya Morsby (right) hugs Maggie O’Kelley as Miranda Bell looks on. Morsby began to open up with the collegiatians as they worked to restore her home damaged by Hurricane Sandy
Photo courtesy of Baptist Collegiate Ministry, Macon, Ga.
In June 2014, she returned to live alone in her deteriorated home. Like many homeowners had done for months after the storm, she lived upstairs, having only partial power, little heat and no hot water while waiting for repairs. Morsby said she had not reached out for help early on because she thought her insurance would cover the damage. In early March 2015, her daughter, Monisha Mapp, contacted Nassau County's Department of Aging for assistance and her mother's case was referred to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR).

"The day I called her, [inspectors] had red tagged the house," Sandy Rebuild project coordinator Bill Johnson said. The home was days from being condemned.

Johnson immediately called city inspectors, whom he had built relationships with, to notify them that SBDR would begin working on Morsby's house right away.

Because of her absence, Morsby had no idea that Southern Baptist volunteers were serving on Long Island. SBDR teams volunteers had been based just blocks away from her home -- at Calvary Protestant Evangelical Free Church in Baldwin, N.Y., through last December. Currently, Sandy Rebuild works out of the New York Institute of Technology in Central Islip, N.Y. The college has housed SBDR volunteers in its dormitories since January 2014.

At Morsby's house in March, SBDR collegiate teams and other volunteers from Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Oklahoma and South Carolina tore out and repaired ceilings, hung sheetrock and painted the rooms downstairs.

One of the first teams sent to Morsby's home consisted of Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) students from Mercer University and Wesleyan University in Macon, Ga.

Morsby seemed hesitant to answer the door when the team first knocked, BCM director Chris Fuller said.

"When we showed up that first day, she had obviously lost all hope," Fuller said. "She was extremely reserved, shy and quiet."

The six inches of water from the storm -- combined with water pipes freezing and bursting -- had left the home's interior in shambles. Water leaks had ruined the ceilings in her living room and dining room. Students began removing china and glassware from large china closets on top of the soggy, moldy carpet, which they removed.

Tory Aina, 18, helped clean out the kitchen. Morsby joined in the labors and started talking with them, later sharing about her life and showing her family pictures.

"Everything was such a mess, debris was everywhere," Aina said. "I couldn't believe that she was still living there on the top floor. ... Something that seemed so minor as washing dishes really helped her."

The team bonded with Morsby and gave her a Bible signed with personal notes and favorite verses.

Fuller said he noticed Morsby's transformation during the students' time with her. He said he will never forget what she told them as they left: "My house is starting to look like a home again."

"By the end of the week she had started to smile," Fuller said.

Dressed to go to church on Good Friday, Morsby said, "Everyone has been so professional and nice. They worked so fast and were so diligent. I am so thankful for them."

For information about Sandy Rebuild, email sandy@namb.net or call 770-410-6075. Those wishing to donate to SBDR relief can contact the Baptist convention in their state or visit https://donations.namb.net/dr-donations. For phone donations, call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262). Or mail checks designated "Disaster Relief" to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543.

NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state Disaster Relief ministries.

Southern Baptists have 65,000 trained volunteers, including chaplains, and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, child care, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

Laura Sikes writes for the North American Mission Board.
Download Story