Less than two years from its last major hurricane, Bladen County is recovering this week from Hurricane Florence.
Early Monday, the Cape Fear, Black and South rivers were still rising and residents were being forced into evacuation. No community was spared the brunt of the storm that came ashore near Wrightsville Beach on Friday morning about 7:15 a.m. as a Category 1 force with sustained winds of 90 mph.
“It’s not worse in any particular area,” said Bradley Kinlaw, the Emergency Management director. “It’s county-wide.”
Greg Martin, the county manager of 17 years, was in Greene County when Hurricane Floyd devastated that area in 1999 and was here for Hurricane Matthew in 2016. He hesitated at any comparisons, reminding it depended on where people were and what happened to them — many were the same, yet many had differences.
“I think what makes the hardship particularly difficult is that this is the second time in such a short time frame,” Martin said. “Less than two years after Matthew, that makes it particularly hard.”
Florence reached Category 4 with 140 mph winds while churning in the Atlantic. As it downgraded to tropical storm over land, it stayed almost parked about 35 to 50 miles inland of Wilmington and Myrtle Beach, its 400-mile swath picking up moisture from the Atlantic Ocean and dumping it in eastern and southeastern North Carolina.
Movement for much of Saturday into Sunday was between 2 and 3 mph, the pace humans walk. By Monday, it was swinging up through the Appalachians on a route over the Northeast back to the ocean.
Elizabethtown had more than 29 inches of rain by 2 p.m. Sunday; Kelly was at 22. Those numbers rose as rain continued to fall Sunday into Monday. Flash flooding was prevalent all across the county, and Monday morning the state Department of Transportation released a list of federal and state roads in the county closed — 11.
Many more were impassable.
“It’s terrible,” Sheriff Jim McVicker said Monday morning. “Bladenboro is flooded really, really bad.”
No deaths were reported in the county, but 17 by Monday were attributed to the storm. Eleven of those were in North Carolina, where coastal communities were hammered Friday. More than 400 rescues were made in New Bern; all access to Wilmington was cut off Sunday.
Bladen County Hospital lost its generator power on Friday and had to evacuate all patients. The emergency room was back working by Saturday within special limits.
Five shelters were opened, starting Wednesday, and all lost power on Friday when nearly 1,000 people had taken refuge. One, Bladen Lakes Primary School, closed because of the threat of flooding in the area.
Schools and county offices were closed until further notice; a county curfew of 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. was in effect indefinitely. Bladen Community College would be closed at least through Tuesday.
Help came to the county from across the state and country, as far away as California and as near as the next county.
Commissioner Charles Ray Peterson considered what he saw in Bladenboro, a town ravaged by flood waters.
“I’ve never seen water rise that fast,” he said. “It’s bad.”
McVicker echoed his sentiments.
“People are really, really in bad trouble,” he said.
Yet, he offered praise from before the storm through the weekend on two fronts. Residents heeded warnings and, for the most part, did what was asked by county authorities. Secondly, departments and agencies to include the municipalities, the county, the state and aid from outside the county rallied cohesively and in humble manner.
“It’s been a number of really bad situations with flooding,” Martin said. “People have lost their homes, businesses have been flooded — I saw a video from Clarkton out on 701, how high the water was out that way. It’s hard to believe how fast that flooding can take place.”
At 8 a.m. Monday, the Cape Fear was at 61.85 feet at the Huske Lock — just shy of 20 feet above flood stage. It was expected to crest at 66 feet, or about 2 feet shy of the Matthew level. At Elizabethtown, the Cape Fear was at 36.06 feet at 8:45 a.m., more than 11 feet over flood stage. It was expected to crest at about 38 feet, nearly 2 feet more than the Matthew level.
At the corner of N.C. 131 and N.C. 410 in Bladenboro on Sunday, flood water had finally began to go down.
Winds from Florence remained high as the storm parked itself inland for much of Friday night, Saturday and into the day Sunday.
Vehicles and homes throughout Bladen County fell victim to Florence’s onslaught of rain over the entire weekend.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached at 910-862-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Alan Wooten can be reached at 910-247-9132 or email@example.com.