KELLY — Rescue teams airlifted 62 people overnight from this southeastern community in Bladen County threatened by rising water in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.
Normally with a population of about 800, Kelly now has about 50 to 75 residents still remaining after three mandatory evacuations. Thursday night into Friday morning, four of seven helicopter crews with hoist capabilities staged in Kinston came in to help make the rescues.
“We did our third mandatory evacuation, and included points to the west of Kelly,” said Bradley Kinlaw, the director of Emergency Management in the county. “Last night, we saw considerable amount of response right after dark of folks wanting to evacuate.
“Most of those did what we asked them, met at the post office. We airlifted from there. There were a few instances of where we had to go in and pluck somebody out one at a time kind of thing.”
The evacuees were flown to Kinston, despite the pleas of Kinlaw to bring them to Elizabethtown. A safety concern was cited, he said. Friday morning, authorities here were sending buses to Lenoir County to bring them back to Bladen County shelters.
In a positive development, the Black River that runs north of Kelly is beginning to recede.
Two shelters remained in operation, at West Bladen High School and East Arcadia School. There were 153 people still sheltered.
Kinlaw said there have been 340 rescues to date since Florence came ashore last Friday about 7:15 a.m. near Wrightsville Beach.
Kelly is threatened by rising water from the Cape Fear River. An earthen dike of about 14 miles in length is between the community and the river; normally, water doesn’t rest against the dike built after a flood in 1945 that set historic levels along the Cape Fear in Bladen County.
Thursday evening about 5, Kinlaw said the next 24 to 36 hours would be pivotal for Kelly and potential flooding. But that time frame is relative to the water on each side of the dike meeting and leveling off.
The threat the dike could have failures would remain past that time frame until water recedes considerably, Kinlaw said Friday morning in a press conference.
The community of White Oak, further north in the county, remains accessible but is mostly an island.
Kinlaw said early morning numbers showed 331 without power in the county, and that to include those on Duke Energy and Four County Electric Membership Corporation.
Belief among emergency officials is that the Cape Fear River has crested not only on the northern end of the county but also midway in Elizabethtown.
The measuring station in Elizabethtown was at 42.43 feet at 9:45 a.m. Friday. It had reached 42.5 feet about nine hours earlier; Kinlaw said observations elsewhere along the river had indicated the river level has dropped slightly.
At the Huske Lock further north, the level was at 69.06 feet at 10 a.m. The highest mark was 70.73 on Thursday.
Just south of Kelly, at Lock No. 1, the crest was still yet to happen.
Bladen County remains under curfew from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily.
Several roads remain impassable. Outside of the county, sections of Interstates 95 and 40 are still under water.
Inside the county, several areas of N.C. 210 are blocked, as are sections of N.C. 11, N.C. 41 and N.C. 53. Other roads marked with weather incidents by the state Department of Transportation’s website were Twisted Hickory Road, Mitchell Ford Road, Browns Creek Church Road, Tar Heel Ferry Road, River Road, Burney Road, East 4th Street, Helltown Road, Airport Road, Coley Road, Elkton Road, Allen Priest Road and U.S. 701 in Elizabethtown.
The U.S. 701 bridges into Elizabethtown were reduced to one span with two-way traffic earlier in the week. Storm debris has piled along the southbound span into town; the structure is not compromised, Kinlaw said. The bridges will be condensed for an extended period of time.
Help continues to come in from around the country and the state. A swift water rescue team from Buncombe County arrived late Thursday, the National Guard has about 70 troops in place, and an emergency management team from Hertford County also arrived in the last 24 hours.
FEMA is using East Bladen High School as a staging area to help support the entire southeastern North Carolina region.
The county requested help in assessing how many homes have been damaged. A link to a survey is https://goo.gl/forms/8zcTBs45RNpqKtE92.
The county Department of Social Services said Thursday that disaster emergency food stamps have not been approved by USDA at this time. As soon as USDA approves, an announcement will be made.
In another message from the county, the Solid Waste is open at the transfer station on Mercer Mill Road, in Elizabethtown, to receive solid wastes and storm debris from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. daily. The convenient sites that are accessible are open on normal hours. Vegetative debris (tree materials)and building material should be separate, and no trash should be mixed in with the tree materials. Any loads larger than a pickup need to go to the transfer station on Mercer Mill Road.
The road to Kelly on N.C. 53 ends less than 12 miles from White Lake. Water from the Cape Fear River is threatening a 14-mile long earthen dike that protects Kelly, a community of about 800 residents where about 50 to 75 people are yet to leave. The cone at right, when placed about noon Thursday, was not in water; about three hours later the based was covered, further reducing the distance of White Lake from the water.
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. Twitter: @alanwooten19.