TAR HEEL — House by house, first responders knocked on doors Saturday afternoon warning of the rising Cape Fear River.
The home of one deputy, said Sheriff Jim McVicker, had been lost to flood water from Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. On this night, he would learn his home had again fallen victim.
Four inches, and rising.
“I said why don’t you go on home,” McVicker recalled the conversation later. “And he said my family is safe and I’d rather be here. That’s the kind of dedication we have here.”
Devastated by Matthew two years ago, Bladen County is braced for even worse in the days ahead. Rainfall amounts Saturday night were expected to be near a foot overnight on top of totals already measured in feet.
The bulging Cape Fear River necessitated those forced evacuations along the vicinity of River Road, Burney Road, Tar Heel Ferry Road and along Harrison Creek where McVicker and dozens of others warned residents. Calls came into the emergency command center more rapidly during the day, many for trees down or impassable roads.
“It’s just water is rising, and trees are falling worse than they were,” McVicker said. “It’s not getting any better.”
If anything was, it was the cooperation and cohesion of those responding.
“My eyes tear up with how everybody works together,” McVicker said. “Nobody is trying to take authority or power, or that this is my idea, or anything like that. Everybody is working together for a common goal. That does my soul good.
“The women from the finance department have been cooking meals. People have been sleeping on the floors.”
He added that County Manager Greg Martin was with him throughout the day, and commissioners Chairman Ray Britt was also alongside. Charles Ray Peterson, another commissioner, helped deliver meals to firemen in Bladenboro and Russell Priest, another commissioner, volunteered to drive a bus.
And they were but a few of many.
“It’s not just first responders,” McVicker said, “it’s everybody.”
And more help is coming. The sheriff said eight deputies and four telecommunicators will be arriving Sunday afternoon to give his staff needed relief.
Florence spent most of Saturday in South Carolina between 35 and 50 miles away from Myrtle Beach, its northern and northeastern bands picking up moisture from the Atlantic Ocean and dumping it heavily into counties from Goldsboro and Kinston east and south.
President Donald Trump was in Washington with Vice President Mike Pence getting briefings. The president tweeted, “Deepest sympathies and warmth go out to the families and friends of the victims. May God be with them!”
North Carolina said its official death toll was seven; 11 deaths linked to the storm had been reported in the Carolinas.
Interstates 95 and 40 endured closures. Lillington along the Lower Little River, Fayetteville along the Cape Fear River and Lumberton along the Lumber River were like Bladen County along the Cape Fear — staring at the unthinkable, worse flooding that Matthew or even Floyd in 1999.
Four shelters continue to be open in the county. Bladen County Hospital, which evacuated the day before, kept its emergency room going on a generator. Bladen County Schools, which last held class Tuesday, will not go on Monday.
“The head nurse told me she’s had several people that came in that asked, ‘Do you have a hot meal?’” McVicker said. “People are really, really in bad trouble.”
Throughout the county, roads were impassable by trees early in the day, and becoming covered by water later. It is water not going anywhere fast.
The Cape Fear River was expected to crest on Tuesday near Tar Heel at the Huske lock, near the Cumberland County line. It will likely crest Wednesday near the Elizabethtown station. Near Kelly in the southern portion of the county, it would likely crest Wednesday or Thursday.
At 9 p.m. Saturday night, the Cape Fear was at 44.55 feet at Huske where flood stage is 42 feet, and was at 24 feet at Elizabethtown where flood stage is 25 feet. It was at 20.3 feet near Kelly, less than four feet from flood stage.
Authorities are also monitoring the Black and South rivers. The Black River is prone to flooding in the Ivanhoe area.
“Any low-lying homes may be lost to localized flooding,” said Bradley Kinlaw, the director of Emergency Management.
At 8 p.m., Florence was a tropical storm with 45 mph winds centered about 65 miles east-southeast of Columbia, the South Carolina capital. Its movement was 2 mph, slower than a human walks. Half of the storm, measured at between 350 and 400 miles since making landfall near Wrightsville Beach at 7:15 Friday morning, remained over the Atlantic sucking in moisture.
Coal ash from a closed Duke Energy power station outside Wilmington was displaced; it was not clear if that contamination reached the Cape Fear River, which supplies drinking water in Wilmington among other places downstream from Fayetteville.
In New Bern, the downtown more than 300 years old was literally under water at daybreak. Rescues were made for 455 people in the town of about 30,000.
Swansboro recorded 30 inches of rain, or a half-foot more than Hurricane Floyd in 1999 — a storm known for exceeding 500-year flood levels.
Across Bladen County on Saturday, the scene often repeated – trees blocking roadways.
A tree blocked part of N.C. 87 on Saturday.
Volunteers at the White Lake fire department help unload packaged meals on Saturday.
Structures absorbed an unrelenting assault from Hurricane Florence’s winds overnight Friday into Saturday, leaving awnings misplaced. In Bladenboro, a church steeple fell. Trees were down throughout the county.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached at 910-862-4163 or email@example.com. Alan Wooten can be reached at 910-247-9132 or firstname.lastname@example.org.