» Helping: Makeshift flotilla saves hundreds. Also, how to help the storm recovery,
WASHINGTON, N.C. — flat-bottomed fishing boat crept into a swirling river that had once been Summer Haven Lane, Tray Tillman scanned the brown floodwaters and half-submerged houses in search of some
body to save.
“Today it’s been women
and kids,” Tillman said. Tillman, 26, a construction foreman, was part of a makeshift rescue flotilla
that has plucked hundreds of stranded people from attics, second-floor bedrooms, church vestibules and crumbling decks as relentless, record-setting rains from Tropical Storm Flor
ence flood rivers across the Carolinas and send torrents of water through downtowns miles away from the coast.
Inland flooding is perhaps the biggest continuing danger as Florence trudges through the Carolinas, and an improvised network of volunteers, some helping from as far away as Africa, has sprung up to locate and rescue people who did not evacuate.
Harnett County, North Car
olina, which is in the path of a river that was expected to crest overnight at 17 feet above flood stage, was one of many jurisdictions that ordered new evacuations.
“They’re used to flooding, but nothing like this,” said Dan DiRenzo, who steered the boats with New Jersey Task Force One Urban Search and Rescue, one of the teams deployed by the Federal Emergency Manage
ment Agency to North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
FEMA said it had more than 1,000 workers in the Carolinas, and the Coast Guard said it had ships and search-and-rescue crews at
the ready. Tennessee sent firefighters and swift-water rescue specialists, and Maryland said it would send its
helicopter aquatic rescue team, including two Black Hawk helicopters. A team of specialists in urban searchand-rescue and medical care left with boats to North Car
olina from New York City, and another team left from Nevada.
There are scores of highly trained rescuers deployed by FEMA. There are hundreds of local sheriff’s deputies
and firefighters trundling through neighborhoods in their tallest trucks. There are volunteers with unofficial rescue groups such as
the Cajun Navy, and monitors as far away as Nigeria searching for calls for help and posting people’s locations on crowdsourced res
Then there is Tillman: a guy with a boat.
A former soldier, he was just a local resident who wanted to help. On Friday, he drove around Washington, North Carolina, with a metal skiff lashed to the top of his minivan, responding to pleas posted online for
help. When a rescue partner who had been working with him got tired, Tillman went out alone. When he broke his outboard propeller on a piece of wood, he hunted down a replacement. On Friday alone, more
than 385 people were rescued from the city of New Bern, about 40 miles to the south. Dozens more were rescued from homes in Washington, up and down the Pamlico River.
Throughout the storm, stranded residents and their families have been posting calls for help on Facebook and Twitter and crowdsourced rescue sites.
Would-be rescuers in the Carolinas used the walkie-talkie app Zello to request information on street conditions and the locations of people needing help. Volunteers outside the disaster zone scanned the internet to provide answers for them, broadcasting weather and traffic reports and even hyperlocal information.
Tray Tillman (right) and Parker Williams, a volunteer with the Bunyan Fire Department, glide through floodwaters as they search for people in need amid flooding Friday in Washington, N.C.