ELIZABETHTOWN — Haggard. And no wonder.
Four non-stop days of frantic calls for help, pleas for assistance of some kind. The static of hand-held radios is non-stop, as orders go out for the most pressing need. Meetings galore, often by just catching one another in the hallway.
At the Emergency Operations Command for Bladen County, organized in the lower level of the courthouse, the pace is brisk, and some of the workers have been keeping the pace since Wednesday, grabbing sleep when they can on a cot in one of the rooms marked with a “Quiet please — sleeping” sign.
“I wouldn’t be scared to say we rescued 200 people last night,” Bladen County Emergency Services Director Bradley Kinlaw speculated, running his hand across his brow.
Beyond looking merely tired, the faces — the same ones every day since Florence made her entrance — have a melancholy about them. They know better than anyone the anger Florence has unleashed on the county, and their faces reflect what they see.
They’re the ones who are seeing people fleeing their homes or rescued by boat. They’re witness to the businesses that are flooded again, and the owners who just might call it quits this time. They’re watching helplessly as cars take to the roads, and they’re the ones who will go rescue the very people who ignored their warnings to stay off the streets. They’ll do it without even a hint of “I told you.”
But they’ll look sad all the same.
That they care deeply about Bladen County and her people is evident by the sheer number of hours they are dedicating to them.
Meals for the emergency workers are provided by a team of county workers, but the emergency crews breeze in and out. A weary plop in a chair, followed by five minutes to scarf down a meal before going back to work.
Represented at the command center are the county’s Social Services, Health Department, Sheriff’s Office, Emergency Management, administration, schools and elected officials. The state’s Highway Patrol and National Guard are here, plus crews from the Army, swift water rescue teams and fire departments.
Vermont, Oklahoma, California and Massachusetts have come to help, as well as emergency personnel from all over North Carolina. Each organization has it’s own room, a headquarters of sorts, with one room filled with Bladen County’s leaders heading it all up.
Calls coming in range from people trapped in their homes with rising water, generators going down at the hospital and food running out at the shelters to requests for food delivery and tree removal. The responsibility for the safety of this county of more than 30,000 rests with those in the building, and those outside in the county that they are directing.
At the daily briefing Sunday, commissioners Chairman Ray Britt encouraged the group gathered.
“We’re all in this together,” he said. “We’ve got a great group of people working here, and I know everybody’s tired, and friction is wearing on everybody, but we just need to stay positive.”
If there’s one thing positive amid the disaster, it’s the cohesion that exists and the success they deliver when people across so many departments in this county come together with those coming to assist not only from elsewhere in this state but from across the country.
Heroic and miraculous success at that.
Help has come to Bladen County from throughout the country, including these members of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Emergency Management.