Faces of the Flood: Billy Stearnes
Billy Stearnes and his dogs were recently evacuated from their home in the Tunica Cut-off community, but his home was not affected by the water until it reached almost 48 feet, just shy of the historic 48.7 foot flood of 1937.
“I’m ready to go back. That’s my home,” Stearnes said.
Evacuated on April 29 from his home of 38 years at Tunica Cut-off, home to more than 300 people, Stearnes lived in the northwest corner of Nel-Win Camp. He had enough time to gather a few prized possessions but could not get everything moved out of his home in time.
“Just being displaced and have to move my pets out is a bother, and it’s kind of like a kick in the belly when they tell you water has gone up in your house.”
Stearnes, 71, who has been retired for 19 years, says he is definitely ready to return to his home and start cleaning up.
“It’s hard when someone tells you, you can’t go back to your home. It’s 100 percent destroyed,” and that is a message many Cut-off residents have heard, he said.
Stearnes said he is prepared to view the mess and believes there was at least a foot of water in his home. If the assessed damage exceeds 50 percent, he must completely rebuild. But Stearnes hopes he can remodel rather than rebuild because he cannot build another house higher or on higher ground.
He said he has faith in the community, which has already been organizing volunteers to start the rebuilding process when they return.
“There is just a special breed of people out there on the Cut-off,” Stearnes said, “We care for each other out there, we work together, and I really want to get back to our same way of life.”
He said he is thankful for all that MEMA, FEMA and the Red Cross have done to help the community. “I feel like we’re in good hands, overall,” he said.
He says that in the next two to three years, everything will be close to the same it was at the Cut-off.
“That’s just home,” he said. “A good percentage of us want to go back. We might lose 50 percent of the residents, but they will filter back in.”
Stearnes hopes that Cut-off residents can return soon, to finally see the damage to their homes later this week, and that the rest of the community will pitch in to help with the cleanup.
“We don’t need handouts, just consideration,” he said. “You go in and do the best you can with what you’ve got to work with. People on this side of the levee need to understand what we’re going through. All people want to do is just go home and back to their way of life. I don’t think we are asking a lot.”