ELIZABETHTOWN — Nearly 100 roads in Bladen County were reported flooded two years ago in the height of Hurricane Matthew’s damage.
Thirty-nine were total washouts.
Residents found it hard to travel. Emergency workers did, too. The pleas to evacuate, go to a shelter or stay in place were made, all with warnings of what might come.
Come Friday, another powerful punch will be sticking it to the county of 30,000-plus residents. Hurricane Florence is a Category 4 storm, projected to come ashore somewhere near Wilmington. It will move slowly, dumping rain and causing flooding in eastern North Carolina.
First responders here have gone over their plans and are ready. And they are helped, as bad it was two years ago, by Matthew.
“One thing I observed this week, it’s from the conversations,” said County Manager Greg Martin. “It’s clear that people are speaking from a place of experience.”
Bradley Kinlaw, the director of Emergency Management, conducted thorough after action reviews of all that was done with Matthew. He kept the notes, too. Sunday, he was combing through them, looking for anything that would be of help this time around.
“We built our list incorporating those,” Kinlaw said of this week’s preparations.
Martin is encouraged by the “strong leadership” Kinlaw has repeatedly shown.
“Bradley was intentional about after action review sessions after Hurricane Matthew, and after any kind of event,” Martin said. “That’s extremely helpful. You can tell people are referring to their experiences.
“A lot of conversations start with, ‘Two years ago I remember.’”
Bladen County suffered three deaths linked to Matthew. The storm landed in South Carolina on Oct. 8, 2016, and pummeled through southeastern and eastern North Carolina.
In its wake was $4.8 billion damage to homes, businesses, public facilities, agriculture and roads. Some communities took on 18 inches of rain. The Cape Fear, Lumber, Neuse, Tar and Cashie rivers all spilled over their banks and remained at flood stage for two weeks.
Nearly 100,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, 20 dams were breached and more than 660 roads were closed by wind and flooding.
“We’re fortunate to have an experienced leadership group, and those established relationships,” Martin said of how Matthew will help with Florence. “Every event is unique and different, and this one appears very threatening and serious.”
And most likely when done, just like Matthew, Florence will leave behind lessons for the next storm.
Rainfall totals for Hurricane Matthew in October 2016 soared along the coast. Rain may be more extensive inland with Hurricane Florence.
Alan Wooten can be reached at 910-247-9132 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @alanwooten19.