BLADENBORO — As Florence’s waters are still rising in some areas, they’re receding in Bladenboro, leaving business owners to evaluate their future plans.
At least one business will not be rebuilding in the flood-prone town.
“We’ve just had enough,” said Sharon Baxley, who, along with her husband, Rodney, owns Rodney’s Barber Shop in the downtown area.
“I swore I wasn’t going to get emotional today,” she added Monday afternoon, looking away, wiping tears from her eyes and surveying the muddy shop. “We just can’t do this anymore.”
Inside, water still pooled in some spots on the black-and-white tiled floor, but a thick layer of mud was the predominant feature in the barren room. The barber’s chairs, hair-cutting tools, customer seating, wall hangings and everything that could be moved from waist height sat outside in the street, relocated to dry out and be loaded onto the moving truck that stood in the street.
“He tried to recognize the local community,” Baxley said dejectedly, gesturing to some waterlogged high school football jerseys. “I just don’t know how much is salvageable.”
A 14-year staple in the downtown section of Bladenboro, the shop flooded after Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and Baxley cited the cumbersome and emotionally draining recovery as “too much to go through again.” The business will be relocating to Butters.
County commissioner and Bladenboro resident Charles Peterson understands all too well the Baxleys’ sentiment and the implications of the town’s preponderance to flooding.
“I don’t know what any of the other businesses will do,” he stated, shaking his head sadly and looking down Main Street. “There are no words. Just – no words. It’s devastating.”
Behind him, Medicine Shoppe owner Rebecca Hester was sweeping up the glass on the sidewalk from where both storefront windows relented under the water’s pressure.
Down the street, Hickman Insurance employees were doing the same.
“This was our high water mark,” explained Jackie Gooden, pointing with her foot to a row of 12-square-inch tiles set against the wall in the insurance office. A sign outside the office reads “Mayhem happens.”
“With Matthew, the water came up to about here,” she added, indicating a spot about nine inches above the floor. A murky water line ran along the wall about three feet above the floor. She gestured around the room, pointing out the front counter that was lifted and overturned by the floodwaters.
“We spent about two days getting everything ready — even put bricks under the tables to lift them up higher,” she lamented. “We just never thought the water would come this high.”
“I’ve never seen water rise that fast,” Peterson stated shortly after Florence left the region.
Gooden’s sister-in-law Teresa Horton just opened up Lolly’s on Main two months ago, but her spirits are not dampened by the force of nature.
“We’ll just clean up and keep going,” she stated, smiling.
“I don’t know what needs to happen,” Peterson said sorrowfully. “I’m no engineer, but it seems to me something can be done about the drainage.”
“I do know this,” he added, “the commissioners will do whatever we can to keep this from happening, and I think most of them would agree with me on that.”
As recently as March, officials from Bladenboro, Bladen County, the county Soil and Water Conservation District, Bryant Swamp Flood Control Corp., Boost the ‘Boro, and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services met and heard about flooding concerns. At the meeting, participants learned that a Golden LEAF grant would allow for clean-up from Wateree Park to the Richardson Road bridge, and Division of Soil and Water grants would make possible some clearing from the Richardson Road bridge to the South Carolina border. It is not known how much, if any, of this work has been done.
Previous efforts have been made to mitigate the impact of strong storms. In 2000, following Hurricane Floyd, a federal program funded the cleaning out of the Big Swamp area.
“This can’t keep happening,” Baxley said. “It just can’t.”
Underneath a sign that reads ‘Mayhem happens,’ Hickman Insurance employees and their friends and family are led in prayer by Northside Baptist Church pastor Ricky Donaldson.
On Main Street in Bladenboro, Bladen County Commissioner Charles Peterson points to the proximity of the downtown area to Bryant Swamp.
The Medicine Shoppe owner Rebecca Hester and a helper clean up remnants of the storefront glass at the shop that formerly housed the pharmacy. Hester relocated down the road after Hurricane Matthew.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.