09/12/18 — 'We hope for the best'

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'We hope for the best'

By Sierra Henry
Published in News on September 12, 2018 5:50 AM

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Andrew Jernigan and Jeff Sutton move a sofa onto a loading truck at Jernigan Furniture as the staff packs up inventory Tuesday to avoid the possible loss they suffered after waters from Hurricane Matthew flooded their showroom.

Businesses all over Goldsboro are preparing for the worst as Hurricane Florence nears North Carolina's coast.

For Jernigan Furniture, the devastation from 2016's Hurricane Matthew is still fresh.

"The only thing that I can say is that it was devastating," Andrew Jernigan said.

In the 94 years Jernigan Furniture has been in business in Goldsboro, there have been two hurricanes that have flooded the city: Floyd in 1999 and Matthew in 2016.

With Matthew came unprecedented destruction of property in which the furniture store lost all of its products to water damage and was out of business for nearly half a year to repair and replace what was lost.

"We weren't even in a flood zone," said Jernigan of the family-owned business. "We couldn't get flood insurance at the time because they said we were in a 500-year flood plain," Jernigan said. "Eighteen years later, we got hit again (and) now we're less than two years. It seems to be speeding up."

In preparation for Hurricane Florence, Jernigan called an emergency action meeting Monday to discuss what the store could do to protect its furniture from flooding.

While there were a few options presented to them, Doug McGraff from Bekins Moving Solutions presented the perfect opportunity.

Starting at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Jernigan and his team began packing and loading every piece of furniture in the store's showroom into moving trucks in the hopes of getting the products to higher ground.

"We don't know what's going to happen," Jernigan said. "We hope for the best, pray for the entire town."

"The more you can prepare, the further you can get in advance, the least chance you have of performing poorly, and we owe it to our customers to make sure we perform at peak efficiency when they need (us) after this storm."

Jernigan estimated that there were around 5,000 pieces of furniture on display in the store's showroom. He said that if one drop of water even touches a piece of furniture, the store will have to get rid of it -- a concept unique to Jernigan.

Other furniture stores, he said, might sell marked down furniture after insurance companies reimburse them for damaged products.

The family-owned business prides itself on the quality of the products they sell. Jernigan said he refuses to sell anything that he would not put into his own home, which is one of the reasons Jernigan Furniture was out of business for so long after Matthew hit.

It can take months to replace the unique pieces the store sells.

"At Jernigan Furniture, because we sell a higher quality product, restocking my showroom is not as simple as ordering some furniture and it shows up," he said. "Everything is custom made, hand built and can take months to get in."

Jernigan said he is not concerned about the potential financial loss from damaged furniture from flooding, but the ability to be available for the community when they need the store the most as well as being open for its employees.

"The problem with that is, after a hurricane comes, what we realize is if Jernigan Furniture floods, so does the whole county," Jernigan said. "What happens when everyone's houses flood? They've got nowhere to sleep, nowhere to sit, nowhere to eat, and we have to make sure we're preparing to be there for our customers."

Shortly after warnings for Hurricane Florence began, Jernigan began receiving calls from customers wanting to help the business secure its furniture.

"That's one of the amazing things about this town," he said.

"What is the best part of Goldsboro? It's the people, there's no doubt about it. Starting days ago, people started calling -- our customers, our friends, little old ladies -- coming by and saying, 'We can't move furniture, but we can move lamps. What can we do?'

"The outpouring of support to get ahead of this is just incredible what we're seeing. Again, it's a credit to the community here."

For McGrath, helping Jernigan and his team move their furniture to higher ground was not a question. He said he just felt like it was the right thing to do.

"That's just how Goldsboro works," McGrath said. "We help each other out."

McGrath said he has supplied trucks to two other businesses in Goldsboro to help them move their equipment and products to higher ground.

"It's a reality. We're going to hope for the best, I hope I don't get a drop of water in here, but I'm going to plan for the worst so I can protect our family here. That means, even if I don't get a drop of water I will have made sure every single piece of furniture is out of here just in case."

Jernigan said the main problem for his store is its proximity to Stoney Creek, which is where the flooding comes from. He said that over time the creek has gotten shallower from sediment and has a lot of overgrowth and vegetation. Because of this, the area surrounding Jernigan Furniture will essentially turn into a mile-wide river that is too dangerous to cross.

"That little creek that you could jump across right now will turn into a half-a-mile raging river. It is one of the scariest things you'll ever see," Jernigan said. "The scariest part is that people don't realize that these waters -- they think they're going to be shallow, they're not. They're deep."

Once much of the furniture is loaded, Jernigan said he plans to help the community as much as he can to prepare for the hurricane. Afterward, he hopes to be available to provide support to the community.

In the meantime, he warned that those who are traveling in areas that experience heavy flooding should remain cautious of water that seems shallow. Areas such as Stoney Creek will become too dangerous, and people should not attempt to cross them.

"It will take you away wildly fast," Jernigan said. "People have got to stay away from these things. Too many people ... will say, "well I gotta pick-up truck, I can get across.' Don't do it. That's how people die, and it happens every time, and there's too many good people here to make these silly decisions.

"It's not worth getting across that river. We need everybody to think safety first and foremost. The water will recede, we will rebuild."