River Bend is a small and quiet community of about 3,100 people. Many of the residents, mostly retirees, are attracted to the town because of easy access to waterfront along the Trent River and Plantation Canal. But that selling point is also the reason for such significant flooding and damages during last week’s Hurricane Florence.
As storm conditions deteriorated late Thursday night, resident Andrew Schellinck was preparing to evacuate his condo at Harbour Walk Townhouses.
“And all of the sudden the water came under the door and rose up two feet within a matter of 15-20 minutes. So I was stuck there.”
A few hours later, a swift water rescue team from Maryland was able to reach him.
“There was a boat coming down this Plantation Road Drive. And there was like four guys in there and they hollered over and they said do you want to get rescued? Yeah, and so one guy jumped off and came over and got me. We waded over through the water and we waded up that way.”
After spending one night at the homeless shelter, Schellinck returned Saturday and saw the damages to his home.
“Now, I ripped the walls out because the guy told me to do it so the mold and everything. So there was like three feet of water. You can see where the water level came up right there. Yeah, yeah. So you can see everything in here, my stove, my refrigerator, dishwasher, washing machine, dryer all that and a car; kaput. And you’re one of the higher properties around here? Yeah, this is the first time ever water ever got up to here.”
Directly behind his condo, Claire Babashanian is piling up water-soaked mattresses, tables, chairs and appliances in front of her home.
“Our priority today is to get everything out and then we have a U-Haul and we’re going to move everything from upstairs out. Everything salvageable we’re going to move to a storage unit.”
Babashanian says everything on the first level of their home was ruined by three feet of water. Before purchasing her home, which is only a few yards from Plantation Canal, she was told it had never flooded even during Hurricanes Fran and Floyd.
“We just renovated over the past year too. Everything downstairs is brand new.”
Fortunately, Babashanian has flood insurance. All 32 homes in Harbour Walk were flooded during Florence and many of the residents don’t have flood insurance.
Near the entrance, Mike Lewis is removing a tree that fell during the storm.
“This is one of those things where you only see it on T.V.”
He and his family have lived across the road in the Quarterdeck Townhouses for about six years. Lewis says about two and a half feet of water entered his home during Florence.
“There’s a lot of places here in town that typically don’t flood that flooded this time.”
Prior to evacuating, his wife, a local school teacher, was able to move most of their personal items to the 2nd floor of their home. When they returned after the storm, Lewis says they immediately went to work pulling out waterlogged furniture and kitchen appliances.
“Waiting for the insurance folks to get here. We got our claim number. They’ll get up with my wife at some point in time and then we’ll rip out the sheet rock out and the insulation, and get the floors out and the cabinets out or whatever process you know it is past that. It’s the first time I’ve ever been flooded, so I don’t know exactly what the process is.”
He says officials with Craven County were in the area Sunday assessing damages. Until his house is repaired, Lewis and his family are staying with relatives nearby. There’s 30 townhouses in Quarterdeck. 26 of condos flooded during Florence.
The recovery process is just begun for Lewis, and for the entire town of River Bend. It’s Tuesday, and there’s still some power lines down on the pavement. The streets are littered with debris. Large trees and branches are lying in people’s yards. Mayor John Kirkland says it’s the worst storm he’s seen since moving to the town over 20 years ago.
“Hurricane Floyd was sort of the benchmark until this hurricane.”
It’s not known exactly how many houses were flooded in River Bend. Kirkland says about 20 percent of the town is located in the floodplain. But, he says, some homes outside of the floodplain were inundated with water during Florence.
“The thing that I feel very deeply about is people whose homes have flooded have lost cherished things that are not replaceable. And that is a tragic event in their lives and I feel for them.”
Kirkland says power has been restored for most residents, the town has started picking up debris and he says FEMA will begin assessing damage in the community later this week.