“This storm is not moving”: Rescues begin in North Carolina as floodwaters rise

A race to help those too poor to evacuate on their own.
September 15, 2018, 3:18pm

JACKSONVILLE, North Carolina — City officials in Jacksonville, Onslow County, just an hour north of where Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane, put a call out on Saturday morning for jon boats needed to help rescue residents from the still-rising floodwaters.

Onslow County saw one of the highest concentrations of rainfall from Florence, and was hit with about 20 to 30 inches rain as of Friday, the National Hurricane Center said. Though Florence has been downgraded to a tropical storm, meteorologists say it’s not moving, and that Onslow residents can expect another 15 to 20 inches on Saturday.

Emergency responders in Onslow are still struggling to keep up with the volume of calls coming in. And the number of people in shelters more than tripled overnight, from 100 on Friday afternoon to 329 and rising as of 6 a.m. Saturday, forcing city officials to scramble to open a new shelter to accommodate residents fleeing from floods.

Finding an appropriate location has proven difficult, as many of the choice venues like schools are also experiencing flooding.

“There are 40 folks in the queue waiting to be rescued. They are not in imminent danger, but the flood waters are rising,” said Onslow County Manager David Cotton, on CNN. Cotton said swift water teams from the Coast Guard and Marines are conducting rescue operations, and a rescue team from Indiana is set to arrive. The county of 200,000 ferried 1,100 people who don’t have cars in school buses to Raleigh.

Read: South Carolina failed to evacuate a prison. Inmates are now sitting ducks in Hurricane Florence’s path.

“The overall conditions are deteriorating as we speak,” he said. “This storm is not moving, so we are moving beyond flooding like we have ever seen. Places not considered to be in flood plains are getting flooded.”

President Donald Trump approved disaster declaration for Onslow and seven other North Carolina counties on Saturday morning, which includes grant money for temporary housing and repairs and other aid for homeowners or business owners.

The leading edge of the storm tore through North Carolina Friday, leaving at least seven people dead and a million without power. Two of the people killed were a mother and infant when a tree fell on their car. North Carolina just broke its record rainfall set in Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and local emergency responders are waiting to see how high the waters rise.

Read: Hog farmers in North Carolina are praying their poop lagoons hold

In New Bern, about 28 miles north of Jacksonville, about 100 people are still waiting to be rescued from flood waters, according to CNN.

Though Florence lost its hurricane status, meteorologists warn that makes it no less dangerous, especially given its slow crawl across the Carolinas and relentless rains.

Nobody knows that better than the residents of Lumberton, a small town in the coastal plains region not far from South Carolina that's still reeling from the devastation wrought by flash flooding from Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

Many families who lost their homes during Matthew are struggling to keep up with the financial burden posed by weathering multiple events like this.

“The bottom line is that poor people recover differently than rich people do”

Adrienne Kennedy, an environmental advocate, told VICE News that she’d been going door to door, speaking with residents ahead of Florence.

“By yesterday we had gone to more than 300 homes. Most of the people said they just couldn’t go because they’re still recovering from Matthew and don’t have the means,” Kennedy said. “The bottom line is that poor people recover differently than rich people do.”

If and how families evacuate is drawn starkly along socio-economic lines. While wealthier families were able to stock up with gas, generators and fuel, and had enough space to accommodate friends fleeing coastal regions, poorer families sought out shelters or piled together in small homes.

One family who lost everything in Hurricane Matthew in 2016 told VICE News they're still struggling to recover. Their floors are only partially redone, and they’ve turned part of their house into a storage place because they couldn’t afford to repair it to the point where it was livable again.

FEMA helped them buy a new AC unit, but they got no help with other repairs from them. A local church helped them pay for roof repairs. They have home insurance, but it doesn’t cover water damage. Flood insurance is too expensive.

This family lost their cars during Matthew because they could not afford to fill their tanks with gas. This year, they decided to fill one car with gas in case of emergency. Their other car is nearly empty.

Cover: Volunteers from all over North Carolina help rescue residents and their pets from their flooded homes during Hurricane Florence September 14, 2018 in New Bern, North Carolina.(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)