Hurricane Florence flood water continued its rush into and through Bladen County this week, threatening lives and property throughout.
Elizabethtown’s three feet of rainfall from the storm was bad enough. Now the runoff from other communities upstream is making its way south, leading to a late-week cresting of the Cape Fear River between the Huske Lock in the northern end of the county, Elizabethtown and near Kelly in the southern end.
A dike in the Lyon Swamp Drainage District was at risk Wednesday night and into the day Thursday. A family of five was evacuated from the area Wednesday afternoon, said Sheriff Jim McVicker, noting it among more than 650 incident calls for first responders since the storm began.
“We are concentrating on Kelly and Ivanhoe,” McVicker said. “We’re keeping a close eye on the dike in Kelly. Water is rising, and everybody is scared that dike is going to give way. That’s going to cause more evacuations.”
At a briefing Thursday morning, Bradley Kinlaw, the county’s director of Emergency Management, said officials are not sure how high the water will get. At that location, it has never happened before, he said.
Evacuations were being encouraged; those that stayed would be at risk of not being able to be rescued in a worst-case scenario.
Thursday morning, a mandatory evacuation order for the area was extended for the Kelly community to include areas of N.C. 53 west of Kelly, over Lyon Road, Cassius Smith Road and Elwell Ferry Road. The Cape Fear River, Emergency Management said in a news release, “continues to rise and is expected to crest on Saturday.”
McVicker said there have been responses to 145 life or death calls; thus far, there have been no deaths in the county.
Florence came ashore Friday of last week about 7:15 a.m. near Wrightsville Beach. It remained camped over southeastern North Carolina and northeastern South Carolina for about three days before moving westward, then hooking to the northeast and heading back to the Atlantic Ocean.
While stationed about 35 to 50 miles inland of Wilmington and Myrtle Beach much of the time, Florence sucked in moisture from the Atlantic and deposited it throughout the Carolinas. Of the communities with measurements by the National Weather Service, Elizabethtown’s 35.93 inches of rainfall were the most of any community in the Carolinas in a preliminary rainfall report.
Wind damage over the weekend soon gave way to water damage as the flooding began. Roads have been compromised, some with chunks taken out, others submerged and impassable.
“N.C. 211 is impassable,” McVicker said. “There are several roads submerged in water for three-quarters of a mile. On the east end, toward White Lake and Ivanhoe and Kelly, there’s a lot of roads that are impassable.”
And then there’s the dike.
“Lyons Swamp Drainage District runs across Elwell Ferry Road,” McVicker said. “There’s some places it’s gone over it, some are eight to 10 feet below it because of the lay of the land. If that wall gives way, it’ll cause terrible flooding.
“We’re afraid of the pressure. They’re marking the pavement to keep up with how much it’s rising. Civilians are helping us out a lot there.”
The county amended its indefinite curfew from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. by an hour, pushing back to 9 p.m. The move was made so that those able to get to evening church services would not have any issues.
School remained out for the indefinite future. Bladen Community College said it would be closed through Sunday.
County offices resumed operations on Thursday, although the Register of Deeds office was closed indefinitely for repairs and cleanup.
Power and internet services were beginning to get restored to several areas of the county. Shelters remained open at East Arcadia School and West Bladen High School.
Water was receding in Bladenboro, a community struck hard.
“In Bladenboro, part of the railroad bed – you can’t use the railroad. It’s gone,” McVicker said Tuesday night. “A lot of store windows are busted out. The water is at the teller counter in the bank. One person runs the service station, he says his hot water heater washed away. He doesn’t even know where it’s gone.”
Many stores, the sheriff said, were filled with water. He said Ray Britt, chairman of the commissioners, took in a view from a helicopter.
“They went on the east end near Ivanhoe,” McVicker said. “He said water was up to windows on houses. Applewhite’s store on 210, which has been flooded twice in three years, it’s flooded. Lot of people have evacuated.”
Tuesday, the state Department of Transportation closed one span of the U.S. 701 bridge so that debris building up on one side could be cleared. The bridge’s structure was not in jeopardy, official said.
President Donald Trump came to the Carolinas on Wednesday, surveying damaged communities.
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.