ELIZABETHTOWN, Kentucky — Mayor Edna Berger didn’t realize there was a North Carolina city also named Elizabethtown, or that it had received nearly 36 inches of rain from Hurricane Florence.
When she did, it didn’t take long for Berger and other city officials to embrace a proposal to “adopt” their namesake city about 600 miles away, a town and area that has been hit hard by flood waters, leaving residents scrambling for shelter.
Berger said Hardin County can relate in a small way to what North Carolina is enduring given the 2009 ice storm and even dating back to the 1974 tornadoes that hit around the area.
“We can relate to each other because of the names of our cities, but if we put ourselves in their shoes and see so much that has been destroyed,” Berger said, “we can relate that way as well. We’ve always been such a giving community. We wanted to help any way that we could.”
Monday morning at its City Hall, a collection began of various items such as water, cleaning supplies, non-perishable foods and toiletries to help residents of Elizabethtown, North Carolina, and others in Bladen County where Elizabethtown is the county seat.
A drop-off area at city hall will be open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and Friday from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Supplies then will be transported to Elizabethtown, North Carolina — northwest of Wilmington, North Carolina not far from the Atlantic Ocean — the following week, Berger said, by city employees.
Mayor Sylvia Campbell said she was “overwhelmed” that her area would be receiving help from people they don’t know.
“It shows the good in people and we are so thankful to have the help from people in Elizabethtown,” she said. “It’s been a difficult time here.”
The idea to help the North Carolina residents came from two newsroom staffers of The News-Enterprise — a six-day a week publication with more than 12,000 Sunday circulation — after a phone call to the office to let someone know there was an Elizabethtown, North Carolina, that had received the most rain in the Carolinas from Florence.
What started as a discussion of possibly doing a news story about that tidbit of information quickly became an effort to find a way to help those impacted in that area.
Once Berger was contacted, she and city officials began plans to help the North Carolina town of 3,600 people.
The two Elizabethtowns share a number of commonalities: both cities recently have seen their downtowns revitalized, both often are referred to as E’town and the towns have plenty of farm land surrounding them as their respective county seats.
The swollen Cape Fear River that runs through downtown Elizabethtown has left farmland saturated after running over its banks. Campbell said the downtown area — which is elevated above the river — was spared of significant flooding damage.
She said Friday some people “only have the clothes that they had on their backs.” She was getting clothes out of her home Friday to aid a family in a neighboring town of Elizabethtown.
Elizabethtown received 35.93 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service’s preliminary rainfall totals. The 202-mile Cape Fear River flows throughout Bladen County and is at historic levels not seen since 1945.
Karen Streussnig, who recently moved to Vine Grove, has family in the Elizabethtown, North Carolina area, including an ailing aunt.
“I can’t get to her,” Streussnig said. “It’s flooded so I can’t stay there; there’s no place to stay.”
She said she will help, either by donating items to the recovery, or by helping city officials, if needed.
“I want to do something,” she said.
Living Faith Baptist Church Pastor Roger Jasper said his mother’s family also is from there. He contacted mayor Berger on Friday offering to help and spread the word through his Elizabethtown church to aid the effort.
“I’d love for us to be a faith-based partner in all of this,” he said. He said he planned to share a supply list with church leaders and members.
Campbell said her city is much like many other small towns where the hub of activity is around the downtown area.
“We have a beautiful downtown,” said Campbell, who grew up in the town she now has served nine years as mayor. “This is a wonderful small town.
“What has happened has been devastating,” she said. “We knew it was coming and when it made landfall it was slow. It was like waiting on a turtle to get through.”
Initially a Category 4 hurricane, Florence eventually was downgraded to a Category 1.
“The rain lasted a long time and we had some horrific winds,” she said. Schools in Bladen County, which include two high schools, have been closed for a week. The district also has 11 other schools.
She said much of the area was without power for about a week and said farmers likely have been hurt the hardest with dozens of animals killed in the flooding.
“It’s been a community effort from day to day since it hit,” she said. Campbell said the area was fortunate in that the hurricane hit as the county was enduring a dry spell.
“There’s no telling how much worse it could have been if the land had been wet,” she said.
Bladenboro, which is about 13 miles southwest of Elizabethtown, North Carolina, also suffered heavy damage from the storm. Also, more than 100 people had to be rescued in Kelly in Bladen County overnight into Friday as water continued to rise.
Campbell said help to her community is appreciated.
“It just warms my heart that someone from that far away would care enough about us,” Campbell said. “It’s what America is about. You help people when they need help. I was overwhelmed when I read an email about what was being done for us.”
Thousands of people pack the street each July for Cruisin’ The Heartland in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.
Jeff D’Alessio can be reached at 270-505-1757 or firstname.lastname@example.org.