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Sherry Boehme and her three daughters stare blankly at the lawn covered with their favorite books. One of the thousands of victims of Hurricane Floyd, Sherry and her daughters bemoan the loss of everything that they owned. Fortunate to have flood insurance, Sherry has to itemize everything that has to be thrown away. It is an arduous and painful task. Others aren't so lucky. As a resident with flood insurance, Sherry represents the small minority of residents of eastern North Carolina who will be compensated for the loss of their homes and belongings.
Hard Rain not only tells the story of several Hurricane Floyd victims, it also uncovers the intense impact of their loss. Combining archival footage from the flood itself with interviews with residents, small business owners and government and state officials, Hard Rain paints a portrait of the frustration and anguish victims faced in their attempt to request compensation for their lost homes and belongings. Interviews with county officials and FEMA staff, along with footage of town meetings in Tarboro portray what residents wanted to or thought should happen versus what was actually possible. County and state officials express almost as much frustration over the aftermath of the disaster as residents do.
Producer Donna Campbell, creator of Something in Common and Any Day Now, filmed Hard Rain in October and November 1999, almost two months after the September 16 hurricane. In December she began filming Higher Ground, a follow-up of Hard Rain taking place over a two-year period, from December 1999 to July 2001.
Sherry and her family portray only one of the pictures of victims of the terrible 1999 flood. In Princeville, an owner of a funeral home relates the shock that prevented many Princeville residents from escaping. In Tarboro, an owner of a small furniture store makes several phone calls and sets up meetings for small business owners on Main Street who lost their livelihood. In East Tarboro, a couple mourns their moldy home as they pack the little that they could salvage and drive away from the area forever. Tobacco and cotton farmers in Pitt County point to their lost crop. And a young couple with small children who lost their home of only three months describes their continual defeat as they try to ask for compensation from FEMA.
But the images of despair give way at time to scenes of happiness or victory. After Governor Hunt creates funds for flood victims, one county assigns a special community group to hand out checks to residents. In Femaville, children play and run. A church choir sings a hymn to scenes of people trying to pick up their lives.
What makes Hard Rain unique are the juxtapositions of images of joy and hope with those of darkness and loss. The camera's focus on a blooming potted flower after a scene of treetops peeking through the floodwater, a woman receiving a $700 check from the state after small business owners and residents argue with federal and county officials about compensation—producer Donna Campbell brings to light both the despair following the event as well as the hope for a better future.