Thousands of residents and business owners impacted by flooding across eastern North Carolina have started the long process of recovery.
It finally feels like autumn, the sun is out and the leaves are falling. A sense of normalcy has returned to eastern North Carolina after Hurricane Matthew nearly two weeks ago, but there’s still a long road of recovery ahead for our area.
"Sadly, we even had caskets and pigs and other things floating around. The pigs were running around. So we want to help people in Tarboro..."
Many people are still displaced from their homes because of flooding. Businesses inundated with water spent this week cleaning up and assessing damage.
On Monday, I traveled to Vanceboro where the Swift Creek and Neuse River levels were just starting to fall. Many residents along River Rd., Streets Ferry Rd. and Piney Neck Rd. were evacuated last week as water levels rose and surround their homes. Dana Drake is the owner of Drake Farms near Vanceboro. She had to use a jon boat to survey damage to her property.
“We had six feet in the driveway, our goat barn, chicken barn, all that stuff, it’s head high in there. The house we liked about 18 inches before it got in the house, so it’s just under the house now.”
A few days after the hurricane, Drake says they noticed the water level rise on their 27-acre farm on River Rd. That’s when they moved their livestock to higher ground.
“Floyd, we got a lot of water in a little amount of time. This, we had numerous days to prepare, assess and move in stages however we needed to do.”
The floodwaters are gradually receding, but Drake doesn’t expect to get into her house until next week.
“We’re going to have to gut the barn. But as far as the house and the land and all, it’s still covered in water and all.”
The Drake family has a storefront business on Main Street in Vanceboro. It used to be a hardware store in the 30s and is one of the oldest buildings in town.
“We boxed everything up before the flood that was in the store for the merchandise and now we’re putting it back out so we can open tomorrow.”
Swift Creek runs behind the building. Fortunately, Drake says water didn’t come inside.
“The back of the building has pilings that are cinder blocks, and it was one and a half from it, from coming in before it started dropping. So, yeah, to be safe than sorry, we went ahead and packed everything up just in case it did come in. As far as I know, this building has never flooded.”
Surprisingly, the 80 year old structure has stayed dry through some of the most destructive hurricanes in state history, like Floyd, Fran, Donna, Hugo and Hazel. It was a different story a few hundred yards away. Barricades with “road closed” signs were set up on the bridge blocking Streets Ferry Rd. Water submerged the road and completely surrounded several homes in the distance.
A couple blocks away, there’s a Red Cross shelter at Vanceboro Farm Life Elementary School. On the other side of Main Street, volunteers with Christian Help Center sorted through piles of clothing, diapers, cleaning supplies and food donations ready to be handed out to flood victims.
“Gently used stuffed animals, toys, games…useful stuff especially when people start moving back into their homes.”
Board of Director member Jeanie Dunn says more than 20 people from the community dropped off donations Monday morning.
“A lot of people lost everything and have to start completely over.”
The non-profit Christian Help Center is a Red Cross partner. Acting Director Terry Jameson says they will be busy for the next several months helping people in Vanceboro recover from flood damage.
“It takes a long time to get things back right and especially parts of the community have been wiped out. So our goal is to go out and help them get back to somewhat of a normal life as well as it could be.”
Recovery is beginning in Kinston. On Tuesday, at Lenoir County Emergency Services building on Rhodes Ave., I spoke with Director Roger Dail about the widespread flood damage in Kinston along the Neuse River basin and in the northern part of the county near Contentnea Creek.
“I think right now that they got about 200 and some homes as of this morning. And I think of those 200 some, 80 of them had major damage the rest of them were probably mild damage. Again, until the waters go down and we can get in there, we won’t have an exact number.”
In the Neuse River flood plain, he says there are over 800 homes and about 170 businesses that had the potential to be impacted by flooding. More than 200 rescues were performed Saturday night as floodwaters rose above levels measured during Hurricane Floyd. Unfortunately, there were four fatalities in Lenoir County making it the county with the most storm deaths in the state.
“But I’ll be honest with you, when you look at the amount of water we had come through here and the amount of rescues we had done, I’m really surprised it’s not more than that.”
Evacuations played a part in saving lives, as well as mitigation efforts after Hurricane Floyd. The City of Kinston and Lenoir County bought out over 800 homes in flood prone areas. Moving forward into the recovery phase, Dail says the true devastation from flood will be realized.
“You go to shelter and see some of the people in the shelter and it’s really a sad thing. You’ve got people there that got brought out Saturday night that don’t even have shoes. So it will be a long process. I would like to tell people that if you have damage from Hurricane Matthew, the first thing you must do is contact FEMA. You’ve got to register with FEMA.”
Dail says Lenoir County, as well as Kinston, La Grange, Pink Hill and Grifton have been declared for individual and public assistance. More than 330 personnel with the National Guard, Army Corps of Engineers, Baptist Men and other organizations are on hand to assist with cleanup and recovery.
Tuesday at noon, highway 70 through Kinston opened for business owners only. They were allowed to access the road to get to their stores so they could assess flood damages. President and CEO of Neuse Sports Shop Russell Rhodes hasn’t been back to his store in a week, since before the floodwaters rose.
“We assumed that we would have water at about three feet, three to four feet. That may have been a foolish assumption on my part because we left some merchandise at about four feet inside the store.”
Many of the businesses along the usually busy, but now desolate stretch of highway have water surrounding them or still inside. Rhodes weaves around orange traffic cones and barrels and pulls into the flooded parking lot of Neuse Sports Shop. Not far away, Kings Barbecue and Piggly Wiggly were still inundated with a few inches of water. Rhodes put on waiters and made his way toward the entrance.
The power is still off inside so Rhodes goes back to his truck for a flashlight. Right inside the entrance, the ice machine turned over and the water line is visible on the front counter. About three and a half feet.
“Jared, this is my biggest concern. The merchandise we left behind, we estimated it was going to be this high, and it looks like we nailed it, it did not go over. The stuff we left behind is not wet. That’s good news. You just don’t know.”
Rhodes slogged his way around a maze of empty shelves, shining his flashlight around the store and feeling the racks for any sign of moisture.
“what is that? Those are fishing baits so not so bad. We didn’t think it would get to that shelf but it did. So that’s what… three feet, three and a half feet?”
The more we walked through the building, the extensiveness of damages became apparent.
“What’s that? Oh, that’s the flooring for that display. Oh man.”
The carpet had come up and was floating under our feet. A line of display cases in the firearm section had overturned. Rhodes says they’ll also have to replace the wall sections that got wet.
“The company that’s coming is bringing two truck based dryers in here. And they take into calculation the cubic square feet in this building and they say the dryers can dry this building in three days. While they’re doing that, they also have crews that can clean and dry the floors. They’ll clean what they can and pull out what they can’t. And then our crew will be working on these display racks, getting them clean.”
His business opened in 1953, so it’s seen many hurricanes including Floyd. But Rhodes says he’s never had this much damage to his business.
“This carpet is destroyed. We’re going to have to replace all the carpet in the store. And we have racks that are destroyed. This is more devastation than I anticipated seeing when I came in.”
He estimates the damages could be more than a million dollars.
“Last time, we didn’t have insurance. This time, we do have insurance and it will help, but it won’t cover it. We have the maximum flood coverage you can have and it won’t cover it. It just won’t cover it all.”
Rhodes is grateful that it wasn’t worse. He credits his staff for helping clear out the merchandise ahead of the flooding.
“Our amazing staff took all the clothes into 18 wheeler trucks and moved it out of the store. So the fact that the damage isn’t greater is because they worked tirelessly for 16 hours.”
Even through the devastation caused by the flooding, Rhodes says he’s been amazed to watch the community come together and support each other through this difficult time.
“I’ve seen people who normally wouldn’t talk to each other working side by side filling sandbags. I saw people carrying sandbags that didn’t know the business they were putting the sandbag in front of the door to save those businesses for people who couldn’t get here. It is moving to see the love that the community showed each other.”
Rhodes hopes to have Neuse Sport Shop open again as early as next week.