Vol­un­teers help vic­tims of Hur­ri­cane Michael

Hur­ri­canes Florence dam­aged many homes later hit by Michael

Albany Times Union - - FRONT PAGE - By Chris Dixon and Camp­bell Robert­son

Many res­i­dents were re­pair­ing homes dam­aged af­ter Hur­ri­cane Florence’s flood­ing when Michael hit them hard.

At the flood-ru­ined home of a re­tired school­teacher, Shirley King, a group of vol­un­teers spent Thurs­day morn­ing pulling out floors wrecked by Hur­ri­cane Florence. The vol­un­teers had been here a cou­ple years ear­lier, help­ing to re­build King’s home af­ter Hur­ri­cane Matthew.

As noon ap­proached, a hard rain picked up. Trop­i­cal Storm Michael had ar­rived.

They are get­ting all too good at this in the Caroli­nas. Gen­er­a­tors. Rain boots. Power losses in the thou­sands. De­tours to avoid tree-blocked roads. Canned goods, bot­tled wa­ter, bat­ter­ies .

Af­ter a fe­ro­cious wal­lop of the Florida Pan­han­dle, the trop­i­cal storm that was once Hur­ri­cane Michael slogged through the Caroli­nas Thurs­day, states that have had a life­time’s worth of bad weather in the past few years. Dis­as­trous f loods swamped South Carolina in 2015, then Matthew hit in 2016, then Florence in Septem­ber, now this.

“I know that North Carolini­ans have been through a tough time,” Gov. Roy Cooper said in a news con­fer­ence. “But we’ll get through this, and to­mor­row when the skies clear and the winds die down, we can get back to the job of re­build­ing and re­cov­ery in our state.”

Michael took a very dif­fer­ent track through the Caroli­nas; it headed up through the west­cen­tral parts of the states, drench­ing mid­state cities and moun­tain towns while largely spar­ing the east­ern stretches that were inundated a month ago.

Of­fi­cials in places like Wilm­ing­ton, N.C., which lost power for days af­ter Florence, are us­ing terms like “in­con­ve­nience” to de­scribe the po­ten­tial ef­fects of Michael. Of­fi­cials in the Ap­palachian coun­ties are brac­ing for prob­lems they had ex­pected but largely dodged dur­ing Florence.

A man in western North Carolina died Thurs­day when a tree fell on his car just be­fore 1 p.m., of­fi­cials said. Nearly 400,000 peo­ple were without power by Thurs­day af­ter­noon, Cooper said, and the num­ber of roads closed by Matthew had over­taken the num­ber of roads still closed by Florence. There had been dozens of res­cues and evac­u­a­tions, the gov­er­nor said.

In the tiny cen­tral North Carolina town of Lo­belia, Michelle Gagnon, and her boyfriend have had to im­pro­vise on liv­ing ar­range­ments in the weeks since Florence. Their home was among dozens flooded and now have so much mold, res­i­dents are forced to live on their front porches amid swarms of mos­qui­toes.

Gagnon, 29, a server at a bur­rito chain, blamed cli­mate change for the de­struc­tive storms of the re­cent years.

“The county and state can sweep it un­der the rug,” she said. “But it’s only go­ing to get worse. This is go­ing to con­tinue. And I think you just don’t re­al­ize what it’s like when it doesn’t hap­pen to you.”

Hur­ri­canes have dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties. Where Florence was a slow, suf­fo­cat­ing steam­roller, leisurely drown­ing small towns and mid­size cities with days of tor­ren­tial rain, Michael is a hit-and-run storm, puff­ing hard and mov­ing quickly. Rivers in the Caroli­nas are ex­pected to mostly stay within their banks, or to overf low into ar­eas known to be flood prone. The ab­sence of pun­ish­ing rain­fall is an ad­van­tage, but a drench­ing fol­lowed by wind is not an ideal se­quence.

“When you get wa­ter like we did, the tree roots sys­tem is weak­ened,” said Rev. Ron Tay­lor, a pas­tor in Dil­lon County, South Carolina, whose teams of chain­saw vol­un­teers had just spent the past three weeks clear­ing downed trees and were hop­ing for a break. “The next time you get a big wind, that may be when the tree goes over that didn’t go over in the ini­tial storm.”

Among the con­cerns were list­ing trees and dan­gling branches, es­pe­cially around power lines. Strong winds are also a worry in places where piles of ru­ined de­bris line the streets, the in­nards of houses f looded by Florence.

In a bad wind, a pile can quickly be­come an arse­nal or at least clog storm drains. So far, though, the brunt of the storm has missed the ar­eas with the most flood de­bris.

Still, re­cov­ery ef­forts will be slow, of­fi­cials said, as some flood-prone ar­eas that had be­gun to re­build now have to wait for wa­ters to re­cede again.

“There’s peo­ple who had their homes dam­aged dur­ing Florence and now there’s go­ing to be some winds that could fur­ther dam­age their homes and prop­erty,” said Mike Spray­berry, di­rec­tor of the North Carolina Emer­gency Man­age­ment agency, de­scrib­ing how a 50-mph gust could rip the tarp off a house that was in the midst of re­pairs, send­ing rain pour­ing back in­side.

Fed­eral disas­ter re­cov­ery cen­ters set up in the Caroli­nas af­ter Florence were closed Thurs­day be­cause of Michael. Schools in many parts of North Carolina have yet to re­open af­ter Florence. As Michael came into the state, there were more than 575 peo­ple still in shel­ters from the last storm and many oth­ers who would have likely needed them but are liv­ing in ho­tel rooms paid for with tem­po­rary disas­ter aid.

Lo­gan R. Cyrus / The New York Times

De­bris and dam­aged be­long­ings from Hur­ri­cane Florence sit on a curb in Lum­ber­ton, N.C., on Thurs­day, just as an­other on­slaught ar­rived: Hur­ri­cane Michael, down­graded to a trop­i­cal storm, but still pack­ing a punch.

Sean Ray­ford / Getty Im­ages

A fallen tree smashed onto a house when rem­nants of Hur­ri­cane Michael passed through on Thurs­day in Columbia, S.C.

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