eye on the storm

Family’s Spring Lake motel, which doubled as home, washed away by Florence

Eye On The Storm
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As the floodwater starts to recede in Spring Lake, many families are just beginning to clean up the damage is left in its wake.

Kishor Depani owns the Starlite Motel along Highway 87. When the Little River crested, floodwater rushed into his hotel, and inundated every room. 

“Damaged, completely damaged. Nothing, anything inside,” Depani said as he examined the rooms Wednesday.

Marks on the walls of the motel show the water rose up more than seven feet. Depani says during the peak of the flood, only the roof was visible.

The force of the water knocked out walls, moved beds, and pushed windows out of their frames, littering the parking lot with bricks and broken glass.

“My mind stopped working when I saw this. Unbelievable,” he said.

The floodwater washed out Depani’s parking lot, knocking 12 rooms off the foundation and into the water leaving a gaping hole in the middle of the motel.

“I just cried. I just cried,” said Depani’s wife, Smita.

The Depanis bought the hotel last year, and were open for 10 months before Hurricane Florence brought days of rain to North Carolina. It caused swelling rivers in Cumberland County.

“Three, four months ago I bought new kitchen appliances, some electronics, TV’s,” said Depani.  “All is gone.”

Smita Depani said the family moved to the United States from India in 2007 and worked in gas stations and McDonalds until they saved up enough money to buy the motel.

“All my savings, all our savings, everything, we put it into this motel. We did very hard work for this motel. I had a dream,” she said.

The Starlite isn’t just the family’s business, but also their home. Depani says they evacuated in a hurry Friday as the river continued to rise.

“I left all my stuff,” said Smita Depani.  “We left his clothes, everything in here. I didn’t’ have anything with me.”

Left with only the clothes on their back, the Depani’s sent Wednesday salvaging what they could.

The family says they do not have flood insurance, because they were told the building never flooded, not even during Hurricane Matthew. They say the Little River normally sits well beyond the tree line behind their property. 

They hope the get some sort of government aid offset the cost of the damages.

“Unexpected. Unexpected. Even I can’t think in my dream of this flood,” said Depani.

For now Depani and his family are staying with his brother.

He says they’ll likely have to tear down the buildings that remain, and hopefully will rebuild.

“At least we saved our lives,” said Depani.

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