A com­mu­nity rallies: ‘We face walls of wa­ter’

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY SARAH KA­PLAN, SCOTT WIL­SON AND KRIS­TINE PHILLIPS

lum­ber­ton, n.c. — The call went out through Face­book at a lit­tle past noon on Fri­day: Vol­un­teers were needed im­me­di­ately to fill sand­bags and dam up a rail­way chan­nel where flood­wa­ters have emerged be­fore

“Pretty soon, I had a hun­dred of my clos­est friends out here help­ing us out,” said state Sen. Danny Earl Britt Jr. (R), who or­ga­nized the sand­bag marathon at West Lum­ber­ton Bap­tist Church. Men and women, young and old, worked for hours along­side mem­bers of the Na­tional Guard to fill the white sacks with mud dug up with back­hoes. Soon, sweat min­gled with the rain that splashed their faces and drenched their clothes.

“Sixty-miles-per-hour winds, shin­gles fly­ing off their own homes,” Britt said. “And they’re here work­ing for ev­ery­one else.”

The work was wet and dif­fi­cult, but es­sen­tial: The Lum­ber River, which runs through town, was ex­pected to rise by as much as 20 feet as a re­sult of rains from Florence. It was not a ques­tion of whether the river would over­top its banks, but when.

As Florence’s winds and rain swept across the Caroli­nas, com­mu­ni­ties such as Lum­ber­ton scram­bled to pre­pare for the surge in flood­ing that would in­evitably fol­low.

“We face walls of wa­ter at our coasts, along our rivers, across our farm­land, in our cities and in our towns,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said Satur­day morn­ing dur­ing a brief­ing.

Florence was down­graded to a trop­i­cal storm Fri­day. But its slow for­ward move­ment means that coastal and south­east­ern ar­eas will still get the brunt of its del­uge. Parts of North Carolina al­ready have re­ceived a record-

break­ing 30 inches of rain, and many ar­eas are ex­pected to get at least 15 more inches. The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice forecasts ma­jor flood­ing at most rivers statewide.

Some ar­eas are al­ready ex­pe­ri­enc­ing flash flood­ing, which oc­curs when rain­fall is so great that it over­whelms drainage sys­tems.

But a grow­ing con­cern is river flood­ing, which hap­pens as trib­u­taries and basins drain into main rivers, caus­ing them to over­top their banks. Some rivers may not crest for sev­eral more days.

All or parts of 18 coun­ties in North Carolina had is­sued manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­ders, warn­ing that the flood­ing from this storm is likely to be even worse than it was dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Matthew, which dev­as­tated the state in 2016.

“While the storm ap­pears on the sur­face to be not as in­tense as ex­pected, this is not the case,” said Nathan Walls, a spokesman for the city of Fayet­teville, N.C. “The worst is yet to come.”

In Robe­son County, which in­cludes Lum­ber­ton, Matthew caused the Lum­ber River to ex­ceed its banks by 12 feet. The wa­ter burst through the river’s ag­ing lev­ees and de­stroyed hun­dreds of homes.

The Rev. Rick Fore­man of West Lum­ber­ton Bap­tist Church said one of his parish­ioners drowned in Matthew’s flood­wa­ters. Dur­ing Florence on Fri­day, he watched as the vol­un­teers worked to bol­ster one of the two flood-prone stretches of the river that could threaten his church.

“We kind of have a dou­ble whammy on us,” he said. The rain kept com­ing. “We’re in God’s hands,” Fore­man said. “We all know that.”

By Satur­day af­ter­noon, the Lum­ber River was 11/2 feet above flood stage. It could rise as high as 25 feet be­fore the storm is over, fore­cast­ers said. The county or­dered manda­tory evac­u­a­tions for the south­ern part of Lum­ber­ton, and spokes­woman Emily Jones urged peo­ple liv­ing in low-ly­ing ar­eas and mo­bile homes else­where in the county to seek shel­ter.

Many res­i­dents heeded the ad­vice. Two of the county’s four shel­ters were al­ready at ca­pac­ity Satur­day.

Deridre Hill is wait­ing out the storm at the Hol­i­day Inn Ex­press where she is an as­sis­tant man­ager. Two years ago, the flood­ing around her apart­ment was so bad that she and her fam­ily had to wait a week be­fore they could be res­cued by boat.

So when a fire­fighter ad­vised them about the com­ing storm this time, she and her hus­band drove to a nearby dirt road, filled as many 13-gal­lon trash bags as they could carry full of soil, and po­si­tioned the makeshift sand­bags out­side their front and back doors. Then, they packed up their two young sons and left.

It’s nerve-rack­ing not know­ing what is hap­pen­ing to her home while she’s away, Hill said. But it would have been even more fright­en­ing to stay there.

“I’m just lucky I have some­where to go,” she said.

In Fayet­teville, where the Cape Fear River is fore­cast to rise an as­ton­ish­ing 45 feet by Tues­day, a manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­der was is­sued Satur­day.

But Allen Rogers, a civil rights lawyer, wor­ried that peo­ple in the most at-risk ar­eas of the city, in places with many African Amer­i­can res­i­dents, wouldn’t trust an or­der com­ing from the po­lice. “I know folks are sit­ting ducks, but peo­ple have a lot of pride and they don’t want to be in a shel­ter or don’t have the re­sources to leave,” said Rogers, who is African Amer­i­can.

Dur­ing Matthew, he said, of­fi­cials didn’t make an early ef­fort to warn peo­ple about the dan­ger. Four peo­ple in Fayet­teville died dur­ing flash flood­ing from that storm.

This time, Mayor Mitch Colvin, who also is African Amer­i­can, said he’s do­ing his best to en­sure that his city is pre­pared, as well as work­ing closely with the com­mu­nity to make res­i­dents feel sup­ported — and to help them leave. Fire­fight­ers and po­lice of­fi­cers have been driv­ing from neigh­bor­hood to neigh­bor­hood, ex­plain­ing the risk and en­cour­ag­ing peothey ple to seek shel­ter.

“This one is deadly,” Colvin said. “They have to get out or risk be­ing stuck — no one may be able to come and get you for days.”

If the forecasts are cor­rect, his city could ex­pe­ri­ence 62 inches of flood­ing in the com­ing days. There is no hold­ing back wa­ters like that. All peo­ple can do is get out of the way.

In the coastal city of New Bern, N.C., on Fri­day, flood­wa­ters had com­bined with the storm surge to del­uge neigh­bor­hoods in as much as 10 feet of wa­ter — of­fer­ing a pre­view of what other com­mu­ni­ties might en­dure.

By Satur­day, the re­lent­less wind and rain seemed to sap the color from the city. Ev­ery­thing was washed in tints of brown and gray.

Down one street, a re­frig­er­a­tor bobbed on its side. A boat that was nor­mally parked in a back drive­way had floated its way to the front door. In front of a house whose own­ers moved in last week, the wa­ter was up to the mail­box. A Jet Ski was the only mode of trans­porta­tion.

Vol­un­teers steered their res­cue boats around the rounded tops of sub­merged cars as though they were ice­bergs.

In drier ar­eas, cars with wet leaves stuck to their sides lined up for gas only to have their driv­ers told that the power had just gone out, and that there was no telling how long they’d have to wait.

The Wac­ca­maw River in Con­way, S.C., just out­side of Myr­tle Beach, had swollen to al­most 10 feet Satur­day af­ter­noon — just be­low flood stage. It’s pro­jected to hit 19.2 feet by the mid­dle of next week — about a foot higher than the record set dur­ing Matthew.

In her liv­ing room over­look­ing the river, Lisa Skip­per was pack­ing valuables in trash bags that she and her hus­band, Ricky, were about to load into a U-Haul van. Ev­ery­thing else they couldn’t take — pots, pans, ta­ble lamps, pantry items, bot­tles of al­co­hol and other items — was ar­ranged on the kitchen counter, out of the reach of flood­wa­ters.

The house was built in the 1960s and be­longs to Ricky’s fa­ther, Earl, who evac­u­ated ear­lier this week.

Liv­ing by a river that fre­quently floods has al­ways been trou­ble­some. Ricky Skip­per said they in­stalled new floors in his fa­ther’s house in 2016 — only to re­place them when Matthew hit, drench­ing the home in a foot and a half of wa­ter. Given the fore­cast for Florence, they prob­a­bly will have to re­place the floors again.

But the fam­ily, es­pe­cially Earl, can’t imag­ine leav­ing the home that holds so many mem­o­ries of his late wife, Frances.

“She loved this river. She lived on this river for a long time,” Lisa Skip­per said, as she looked out the win­dows in the nearly empty liv­ing room.

As the Skip­pers fin­ished load­ing their U-Haul, their neigh­bor, Emy Cham­ber­lain, 21, was walk­ing her dog, Fergie. She said she and her fam­ily had evac­u­ated ahead of the storm’s land­fall and had just got­ten back home Satur­day. Now they could only wait to see what dam­age the flood­ing might bring.

“There’s re­ally not much you can do,” she said. “If it comes, it comes . . . . We’re pretty much used to it.”

ZOEANN MUR­PHY/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

JABIN BOTSFORD/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

TOP: A drone cap­tures a kayaker nav­i­gat­ing the wide­spread flood­ing from Trop­i­cal Storm Florence on Satur­day in New Bern, N.C. ABOVE: First re­spon­ders from Acme-Delco-Riegel­wood Fire Res­cue cor­don off the area as a car is trapped in ris­ing flood­wa­ters on a road Satur­day in Wac­ca­maw, N.C. All or parts of 18 coun­ties in North Carolina had is­sued manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­ders. BE­LOW: Res­cue work­ers stand with a search dog — out­fit­ted with pro­tec­tive gog­gles and a life vest — Satur­day in Wilmington, N.C.

ALEX WROB­LEWSKI/BLOOMBERG NEWS

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