North Carolina Flooding

Sep 22, 2018
Originally published on September 23, 2018 1:04 am
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In North Carolina, many of the inland towns that have been flooding this week in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence have been inundated before. Some were devastated just two years ago when Hurricane Matthew dumped a foot and a half of rain on the state. Florence dropped twice that much on some towns where people who were still dealing with the damage from Matthew were walloped again. As NPR's Jason Beaubien reports, massive flooding has become frighteningly familiar in some parts of the state.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Seven Springs, N.C., is a quaint town on the banks of the Neuse River. Main Street is just three blocks long. The volunteer fire department station sits just past a classic red Coke sign above Mae's Restaurant. But Seven Springs has a problem. Its population is in decline after successive floods have driven people away.


BEAUBIEN: This week, Main Street was filled with nearly four feet of water. The only resident still staying in town was the mayor, Stephen Potter, and his elevated doublewide trailer was surrounded by water. Two members of the volunteer fire department offered to push us in a green skiff over to his house.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Where we going this time?

BEAUBIEN: Potter's porch light was on, and he was getting ready to fry some chicken for dinner.

STEPHEN POTTER: I take care of my mother, who has a little bit of dementia, and it's just easier to be here with her than to try to take her somewhere else.

BEAUBIEN: He says, if you're going to live in a floodplain, you have to be prepared. He notes that $600 or $700 a year for flood insurance is a bargain if it ends up paying to rebuild your whole home. He jacked up his house 8 feet after Hurricane Matthew hit it in 2016.

POTTER: Elevation is key - if you're going to stay here, I mean. That's what I did, and you see we're good. I could have handled a whole lot more water before I would have been threatened in here.

BEAUBIEN: Seven Springs is a small town, but it's a population that's fallen and risen with the floodwaters.

POTTER: Pre-Matthew, we had about 115. That was down from about 175 to 180 pre-Floyd in '99. And then, after Matthew, we had declined in population to less than 40, I think. But we had gotten back up to about 60, and now we have this. So...

BEAUBIEN: Potter says he hopes the residents who fled this most recent hurricane will be able to come back. The volunteer fire department, however, is already in the process of moving off Main Street. They're building a new fire station up the hill out of the flood zone.

POTTER: I honestly believe this is going to be the new normal. I mean, I don't know if it's going to be every other year, but I think it's going to be more frequent, and the storms are going to be more intense.

BEAUBIEN: And scenes like this are playing out all over the eastern part of the state. Thirty miles to the east, a tributary of the Neuse River has been seeping into the town of Grifton. During Hurricane Matthew, entire neighborhoods in Grifton went underwater. Now, as you drive into town, a gray Toyota Sedan is submerged up to its mirrors on West Main Street. Along Water Street, several homes are engulfed in water. Allen William's (ph) trailer is one of them. He has about a foot of water in his driveway. He says almost all of his neighbors left after Hurricane Matthew two years ago.

ALLEN WILLIAM: A lot of them had been here all their life, and they're just tired of it. You know what I'm saying? They didn't want to deal with it no more, so they moved on. And me, I like it here. It's quiet, I ain't got to worry about - you know what I'm saying? Yeah. So I'm going to ride it out, see how long.

BEAUBIEN: Most of his neighbors agreed to take a FEMA buyout for their homes, he says. But it's been two years, he adds, and they're still waiting for their buyout checks.

While Williams likes the peace and quiet that comes from his neighbors abandoning their homes, these storms are tremendously disruptive to towns like Seven Springs and Grifton. Businesses that get flooded can take months to reopen if they reopen at all. After Matthew flooded the Piggly Wiggly supermarket in Grifton, the town was left for more than a year without a grocery store. An independent market called Tropicana moved into the Piggly Wiggly building but was shut down again last week by Florence. It still hasn't reopened.

MANUEL BAUTISTA: This smells a little bit bad because the garbage - they can't put the garbage outside.

BEAUBIEN: Manuel Bautista is the manager of the Tropicana. Bautista and his staff are trying to clean up from the water and wind damage from Florence and get rid of all the spoiled food.

BAUTISTA: We already throw away the meat and lots of stuff. So we just got, like, the frozen food over there.

BEAUBIEN: Walking through the butcher's section, he says some of their freezers were damaged. Right now, he's trying to assess whether they can get everything running again.

BAUTISTA: Maybe, you know, we can reopen again because we don't got flooding. But we need to see how many damage we got and see if we can open again.

BEAUBIEN: If they can't, Grifton will once again be without a supermarket for the second time in two years because of a hurricane. The north side of the parking lot of the Tropicana is flooded, and, across that water, Theresa Marrow (ph) is weary of hurricanes.

THERESA MARROW: It takes its toll.

BEAUBIEN: She says she's lived in this spot for 68 years, which is all of her life. Her trailer's now sitting on the spot where her parents' house used to stand.

MARROW: It was a big, old, nice four-bedroom, dining room - it was a nice house, and I'm kind of sorry that it got torn down.

BEAUBIEN: It was torn down after Hurricane Floyd. The rising waters that followed Floyd in 1999 inundated that house. Now the waters are rising up towards her house again. She says if she could afford to move to higher ground, she would, and she thinks a lot of other people in these areas that keep flooding would like to move, too.

MARROW: You know, a lot of people are tired because I'm tired. But God has - I got to give it to him, he has kept me the whole while, so I appreciate that.

BEAUBIEN: But in terms of whether more floods are going to hit here in the future, she says those are definitely going to come, and she expects they're going to come more frequently.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Grifton, N.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.