Duplin County Takes Stock After Matthew

Oct 31, 2016

Credit WITN-TV

Hurricane Matthew recovery continues throughout eastern North Carolina, including the largely rural county of Duplin on the banks of the Cape Fear River.

Though it didn’t have record breaking flooding like neighboring Lenoir and Wayne Counties along the Neuse River, the county has a long, and costly, recovery process ahead of them.

Chris Thomas has this.

Starting all over again isn’t easy. But that’s where some Duplin County residents stand after Hurricane Matthew.

“It really touches home and it really touches your heart when you see those people that you know and that you grew up with –“

That’s Matt Barwick – Kenansville native and the county’s EMS director.

“I know that I’ve got friends that (have) agricultural operations that I grew up with and they’ve been completely devastated by the flooding aspect and just trying to get themselves on their feet as a new farming community and this has basically wiped them out and made them start all over again from the very start. So it touches things right here at home.”

The Cape Fear River in Duplin County came a few feet short of setting new records. But parts of the county remained submerged for nearly a week due in part to its terrain.

Shane Kerns from the National Weather Service explains.

“It’s a really flat basin out there. It covered a lot of ground. But…the inundation wasn’t as deep so there weren’t as many homes affected. But it certainly did cut off a lot of people from any roads that could get out of there so it still caused major problems.”

The flooding could have been worse in Duplin County – but it was by no means “minor” in scope. The Cape Fear River reached major flood stage on Oct. 9th and stayed there until the 14th.

The Cape Fear River in Chinquapin crested at a record 23.51 feet in 1999. It came about 3 feet short of that mark this year.  

“It was pretty significant – probably just a step below Hurricane Floyd out there.”

Eastern North Carolina, Duplin County included, was headline news across the nation that year. A New York Times article said the storm – which caused more than $1 billion in damage and killed 48 people – exposed major flaws in the state’s farming system.

A similar story was published in the Washington Post on Oct. 16 as livestock and their waste turned up across the region and its waterways.

While no human casualties were reported, home may mean something different for some Duplin County residents. According to Barwick, more than 80 homes were impacted by the flood, 40 roads were unusable or washed away, and nearby water and sewer lines were damaged.

That’s not to mention damage to public structures – businesses, schools, and government administration buildings.

“Operations in the county pretty much stopped with the exception of the local crop production and trying to get the crops out of the fields what they could, even with the flooding issues but as far as normal businesses and things around in the county, everything stopped for two weeks. Any revenue that would have been provided in taxes and revenue for the local business owners and things such as that nature did completely stop for two weeks.

Barwick said the county qualifies for federal assistance from FEMA but early estimates make it apparent that the cost of recovery will be steep.

“As far as dollar damage assessment – I mean we’re going to be in the millions for sure.”

Days were also lost to flooding – school days. Barwick said Duplin County Schools were closed for two weeks mainly due to flood damage.  

Districts across the state are in limbo and it looks like the General Assembly will, ultimately, make the final decision on school calendars.

“Governor McCrory…he’s requesting to the government that the days be excused. I know that Duplin County Schools since that time have changed a couple of days that they had – at least their half days to full days to try to make up some of that time in anticipation that it wouldn’t be excused but however, if things do play out where those days were able to get excused and I’m sure they would move toward a more shortened school year so to speak.”   

When facing an aftermath like the one following Hurricane Matthew, it’s difficult to know where to start the recovery process. It touches most aspects of common and personal life and creating a priority list is daunting – especially in an agrarian county like Duplin.

“Growing up in a rural community, you figure out how to adapt – to figure out how to make things progress and we’ve had a great response from all the employees in the county offering their assistance.

Outside civic and religious organizations have also pitched in – helping to rebuild homes and lives impacted by the second “once-in-500-year” storm to occur in less than two decades.

I’m Chris Thomas.