KELLY — Bradley Kinlaw led Gov. Roy Cooper on a flight tour over this community on Wednesday, pointing out the spot where an earthen dike built after a 1945 flood breached.
“You could probably drive two 18-wheelers side-by-side through it,” said Kinlaw, the Bladen County Emergency Management Department director.
Cooper’s visit began at the former Booker T. Washington Primary School in Clarkton, continued in Bladenboro at a distribution point for supplies and meals, and concluded by air in this southeastern hamlet.
“A lot of devastated area,” Kinlaw said of Kelly. “There’s just a ton of homes flooded. Today, the water has gone down and today wasn’t the same image as before. What I really tried to impress on him was this big hole in the dike is why it was flooded. We’re going to be requesting money to get the dike put back together.”
Kinlaw said the depth of the gash is not fully known due to standing water. He estimated the width at 30 feet.
“It’s a pretty good hole. And that’s just one of several,” he said.
The location is directly behind the Kelly Volunteer Fire Department and the post office, about a half-mile from downtown.
White Oak Road was completely devastated for several hundred feet because of the breach, Kinlaw said. He said DOT had a contractor begin work there Wednesday on a temporary road that should be done within a couple of days; after that, a solution for a permanent road will be found.
The curfew and evacuation order for Kelly was lifted Wednesday.
Cooper spoke with some of the 41 evacuees still at the shelter in Clarkton, with residents at Bladenboro and with Red Cross workers and other volunteers. He moved about showing compassion, asking about people’s homes and their families. He expressed appreciation to those who had come to help.
And he got an eyeful.
“I’ve been in Duplin and Bladen counties today, and it’s pure devastation,” Cooper said after his Bladenboro stop. “I’ve seen many homes, businesses, churches — all under water.
“The heartening thing is the unshakeable spirit of the people of eastern North Carolina. We have neighbors who are determined to help each other.”
Cooper took notice of the counties and their poverty level.
“A lot of folks I talked to didn’t have a lot before the storm,” he said. “Now they have nothing.”
Cooper said the state is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on temporary sheltering, and long-term affordable housing.
“We have put out $750 million in helping for Matthew,” Cooper said of the October 2016 hurricane. “We just had two 500-year floods within 23 months. We have to build in a smarter way.”
Kinlaw said he showed the governor areas of Clarkton, downtown Bladenboro, the dike issue in Kelly, the logjam at the U.S. 701 bridge and the cemetery in Elizabethtown, and a few other random spots.
“He knows the issues,” Kinlaw said. “I know he was going to speak with the DOT secretary when he got back about the log jam. So, I think it was a good visit. He got to see our issues, and hopefully he’ll continue his support of our needs and requests as we move through the recovery.”
Kinlaw said his main goal was to show the first-term governor the number of flooded homes. Along roadsides throughout the county, there are places were water still stands, and places not far from them where families have begun the tear-out process for their homes and placed debris and belongings beside the road.
Kinlaw’s second goal was fiscal.
“We need to develop a solution to move this money quicker,” Kinlaw said. “I need them to develop a way to move this money quicker than we did with Matthew.”
And the governor’s response?
“He understood where I was coming from,” Kinlaw said. “He acknowledged he understood.”
Kinlaw said the county was moving forward on an expected timeline to this point. Distribution sites for food and cleaning supplies were open on Wednesday, and FEMA had begun going door to door in the hardest hit areas to help get people registered for help.
“Their goal is to knock on the doors and help them sign up,” Kinlaw said. “They have an iPad in their hand and they can help them get registered.”
The areas deemed among the hardest hit were Bladenboro-Clarkton, the Tar Heel-White Oak area, Kelly and near the TV tower between White Lake and Kelly, he said.
“We still have a request in the pipe for a disaster recovery center,” Kinlaw said. “It just takes them a few days to get that operation up. I think the first one in the state opened Tuesday. I think within seven days we should have one.”
The U.S. 701 bridge across the Cape Fear River remains structurally sound, he said. There has been no decision on how to remove the debris field that has piled against the southbound span. Its size would be comparable to a baseball field, its weight measured in tons.
At lunchtime Wednesday, workers finished and opened the crossovers through the medians at the bridge. These will make traffic on the northbound span two-way, allowing work to be done to remove the logs, trees and other debris below the bridge.
Kinlaw said there was no need for residents to call about mosquito spraying — the entire county is getting sprayed from sunup to sundown daily. There is exploration of an option for aerial spraying.
Kinlaw said anyone with damage from the hurricane should call FEMA at 800-621-FEMA.
On Natmore Road in Kelly, belongings are brought out from a home that flooded in one of Bladen County’s worst-hit areas.
Gov. Roy Cooper talks with Red Cross workers Gwynne Hoffecker, of Dover, Delaware, and Laura Warrimer, of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, while touring at Booker T. Washington Primary School in Clarkton on Wednesday.
Gov. Roy Cooper met Bladenboro resident and volunteer Sadie Freeman in a room with supplies while touring Wednesday.
While touring Clarkton, Bladenboro and Kelly, Gov. Roy Cooper stopped to chat with (from left) Cpl. Matt Long, Deputy Cory Thomas and Sgt. Jesse Anderson of the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office.
Alan Wooten can be reached at 910-247-9132 or email@example.com. Twitter: @alanwooten19.