Eighteen months after the devastating flood in October of 2015, three women from Columbia and Lexington are still not home. Stacy Massard, Carmen Bowie, and Suzanne Snyder continue struggling in the aftermath of the storm. They agree friends and family just don't get it; they're grateful for the bond between fellow flood victims.
Snyder and Massard met through work at Palmetto Health, a Columbia-based hospital. Massard is a consumer advocate at the immunology center, while Snyder is a counselor. When they learned of their shared experience, the two began sending each other news articles over Facebook, e-mail and text. Snyder would share information about public meetings and funding opportunities.
At one of those meetings, Massard says she met Carmen Bowie and they kept in touch, "We sisters for life now." They started commiserating about the frustration of dealing with FEMA, local government officials, or friends who just don't understand their pain.
Bowie is a red-haired woman who works for a commercial heating and air company. Her home was flooded not just with rainwater, but with raw sewage. She lost everything inside, but hasn't been able to get the property off her hands. Bowie has no choice but to pay for the house on top of other bills. Bowie also had to move around, look for funding, and get help surviving.
After more than a year of this, she says the work is constant, "I've been paying mortgage, rent and I'm out: out of money, out of time."
Massard echoes her frustration. She lived in a trailer home in Lexington when a fallen tree crashed into her roof, allowing rain to pour into her home. She's had to move around with her son and has finally ended up living somewhere over an hour away from where she works. Somewhere she does not consider home.
Massard says, "It's a trailer house, it's nice. It's okay. It's got things in it, but I deal with that. Bugs, I deal with it."
But all three women agree the pain of flood recovery comes from more than logistical hurdles, but the personal trauma and emotion. Massard says she's had anxiety and depression ever since the flood. She says it's hard not to think about sometimes.
Bowie says even the changing of the season will trigger a memory... and remind her of the pain. She says anything will remind her of it... like looking for something important to her. Recently, Bowie's sister passed away -- Bowie began looking for a card her sister had give her ,"I knew, or I thought I knew, a card that she had sent... I spent an entire day, I didn't know why I thought it was there."
Massard's co-worker, Snyder says family and friends just don't understand those small moments, so it's important to have friends who do. Snyder's house filled with four feet of water. She does plan on moving back in soon, but says she's still in the middle of recovery, "Eighteen months later it's still going on and people are shocked."
Just three months after the storm hit, Snyder remembers neighbors asking her parents if she was back home yet. At that moment, she says her home was being demolished so they could begin rebuilding, "People don't get it unless they've been through it... I think we're the only ones who truly understand. Friends and family think they do. But they have no idea."
Bowie will be moving back into her home soon. She passes around her phone with a picture of her nearly done house. She has a big smile on her face. She says, "I can't believe it's been eighteen months and I can. Feels like a month and it feels like ten years. All in the same."
They all agree, home is the ultimate goal and the finish line. Massard and Bowie are happy for Snyder, even though they haven't taken that step quite yet. They want to share in her success.
Massard says, "It's almost like you are a part of that. Share in that joy, but I am not bitter. I'm just so happy. That I've seen someone recover from this. To know it's truly possible. There is hope."