I’ve spent enough time in North Carolina in recent days to know it will take a long, long time for many residents of that storm-ravaged state to recover.
Many may not.
Others who fled their homes may never return.
“This can’t keep happening to us,” Charles Gregory Cummings, mayor of Pembroke, 10 miles upriver from Lumberton, told The Washington Post. “We know what to do, but we need help.”
Hurricane Matthew devastated just two years ago by Hurricane Matthew. This year, more death, destruction and despair came at the hands of Hurricane Florence.
In Lumberton, a temporary dam, created over objections from CSX railroad, failed and water flooded the same neighborhoods that suffered the same fate from Matthew in 2016.
In Pembroke, resident Barbara Pearson spent five months in a FEMA-funded hotel room after her home Hurricane Matthew damaged her home. This time, Hurricane Florence surrounded her home again, this time with waist-high water.
“I think it came further this time than it did with Matthew,” the 76-year-old Pearson says. “It is what it is.”
Environmental scientist Ryan Emanuel at North Carolina State University says too many canals and levees have allowed people to build homes on river margins and swampy areas for decades.
He urges moving homes to higher ground while restoring swamps to their natural state.
“We lose livable land but people converted that land artificially and this is land that is underwater right now — not very livable,” he adds.
Less than 10 percent of the residents affected by Hurricane Florence have flood insurance.
In 2016, many of the 400 residents who lived in the town of Nichols during Hurricane Matthew never came back. The town is a shadow of itself.
“The storm is wreaking havoc on our state,” says North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D). “We’re deeply concerned for farms, for businesses, for schools and whole communities which could be wiped away.”
“We lost a whole town,” Nichols mayor Battle said. “We needed more help than what we got. One hundred percent flooded. Businesses gone.”
When Nichols prepared for the arrival of Hurricane Florence, the few remaining residents worried that this could be the final blow.
“We just aren’t big enough to rebuild,” says mail carrier Pam Huggins.
“I don’t think there will be anything left,” adds co-worker Melissa Chapman.
In 2016, Nichols was a town about the size of Floyd.
Then Hurricane Matthew struck and it became “almost a ghost town.”
After Florence, it may only be a memory.