Good afternoon, Arrowheads. You may or may not have heard about the hurricane that recently wreaked havoc on the Carolinas: Hurricane Florence. You may or may not know about the small towns that have been completely devastated. You may or may not know that the catastrophic floods in some areas surpassed that of Floyd (1999), the most devastating flood in the area to date. (Watch here to get an idea of what Floyd was like).
You may or may not care about any of this. But I do. These are my people. This is where I call my home. These are my friends, family, former classmates, and coworkers.
We are NC Strong.
These are some of the horrors my sweet state has faced over the past week.
Before the Storm
Hurricane Florence was initially a Category 4 hurricane, making it comparable to Hurricane Hazel from 1954. Although Florence was not projected to make landfall until Friday, September 14, Eastern NC began to make preparations much sooner, as we’re well acquainted with how much damage these storms can cause.
On Tuesday of last week, a mandatory evacuation was proclaimed for one of our surrounding counties. A rumor was also going around at work that our county was under a mandatory evacuation. Knowing that Florence was heading to us as a Category 4 hurricane and that we were being told to leave scared the mess out of me. Though my hometown’s closest neighboring town is prone to catastrophic flooding (and I live in between what I call my hometown and the flooding town), my family’s home did not flood in Floyd. But, with all the hysteria going on, I was beginning to assume it could flood if Florence reached land at full force.
The drive home from work Tuesday resembled a scene from an apocalyptic movie. As I drove east back to my hometown, heavy traffic travelled west. My entire county rarely has typical traffic jams (unless a tractor is involved 😉), so seeing the west-bound traffic backed up a mile at the stoplight in the town where I work gave me goosebumps. The further I traveled, the more traffic emerged. People were driving by pulling campers and tiny houses.
Once I reached my hometown, I began to have a panic attack. Businesses and houses were boarded up with plywood, something I rarely see on Main Street even though we often receive hurricanes and tropical storm threats. All I could think about was the rumor of the mandatory evacuation of our county. All I could imagine was our house flooding and all our belongings, especially photos and videos from my childhood and of my deceased grandparents, being ruined. Bawling as I entered the house that afternoon, Momma assured me that our county was only under a mandatory evacuation for flood prone areas, and that all the traffic I was seeing was from the Onslow county citizens leaving Jacksonville, whose population as a city outnumbers my county. To say I was relieved is an understatement!
The Wrath of Florence
Florence soon downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane by the evening of September 13th. This wasn’t just some fluke in the weather pattern that caused it to do so; the amount of prayer and faith Eastern NC placed in God to calm the storm is the only fathomable possibility I can think of. I can attest to that, because I saw it first hand.
I can’t imagine what would have happened if Florence had struck as a Category 4 instead. The wind and rain started that evening, and our electricity went out around 11:00 pm. My sister and I played board games and made our beds for the next few nights on the living room couches.
Florence made landfall on the morning of Friday, September 14th. Through Facebook and local TV stations that we were able to watch through the assistance of an inverter, we watched the storm devastate coastal towns like Wilmington, Jacksonville, Topsail Island, New Bern, and Myrtle Beach (SC). The wind and rain beat down on our house, and a few tree branches fell in our yard, but we were fine throughout the storm. However, because we didn’t have a generator to power the refrigerator during the storm, we began to worry about our food. That night, we had grilled cheese sandwiches and fried bologna sandwiches, prepared on a small gas grill in our garage, the garage door open for the fumes.
The one thing that ate away at me was that Friday, September 14th–the day Hurricane Florence struck the Carolinas–was also my baby sister’s 20th birthday. I absolutely hated it for her. Like usual, she opened her birthday presents, but the storm greatly overshadowed the excitement she had been stowing for her birthday plans. That night, in the powerless kitchen, we placed a candle in a piece of cheesecake from Piggly Wiggly and sang Happy Birthday to her.
I’m sure it’s a birthday she’ll never forget. By the end of the night, she was back to her old self again: recording a Snapchat of herself trying to sound like Goofy when he falls. 😂 At the time, we were without power for 22 hours.
Things began to take a turn for the worst on Saturday, the 15th. We woke up to hear that just about every town around us was flooded. We live 30-45 minutes away from the coast, so a lot of the rain Florence brought attributed to freshwater flooding in our area. Boat rescues began in nearby towns. The highway I take to work flooded over, and at the time of writing this post, it’s still flooded over. Not even a mile away from my house, half the road washed out. But, we’re still blessed. We’re still able to get to town.
To make matters worse, around lunch, my boyfriend texted me saying his momma had passed out. After his daddy managed to get her to the hospital (yes, despite the flooding) they found out she had a mild heart attack. Knowing I couldn’t be there with him or her during the hurricane brought me to tears. Thankfully, God has taken care of her through this time and she is in stable condition, though she still requires surgery. My boyfriend stayed home with the rest of their family, to ensure their generator kept working. At the time of writing this post, he still hasn’t been able to see her yet; he’s wary that the roads are beginning to flood over on the way to the hospital and that he won’t be able to return home.
Sunday morning (the 16th), I woke up to find that the USA Today posted an article about my small hometown, describing how we were (at the time) stranded on our own little island of sorts due to the floodwaters restricting us from travelling to all other towns. We are now able to travel to some nearby towns, but at the time of writing this, I’m still unable to get to work, which is only 25 minutes away.
Our local shelter–the elementary school–was in need of food for 250 people, though I’m not sure how they received food because our town and surrounding areas still didn’t have power. My family drove around town that morning, and one of our two gas stations in town was backed up, traffic waiting all the way down Main Street to get gas and waiting for the store to open. The store didn’t even have power. They were working off a generator.
While my island of a hometown was faring well under the circumstances, our neighboring town, Chinquapin, was not. Sunday was when the Cape Fear River began to rise, the flooding becoming even worse than that of Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and Hurricane Matthew of 2016. I’ll let this picture speak for itself:
What you’re looking at is the small town of Chinquapin, NC, home of about 2,000 people. The picture came from my cousin’s Facebook page, and the building circled is the church my uncle preaches at. The flood waters are up to the ceiling of the church. Since our grandparents passed away, this is often where we have family get-togethers for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Click here to watch a more detailed video of the flooding Chinquapin suffered in Hurricane Florence. [Viewer Discrepancy: This video contains explicit language in the background commentary. The video can be watched on Mute to avoid this.]
But more than that, Chinquapin is the the home to some of my former high school classmates, my cousin’s extended family, and two band members from my daddy’s bluegrass group. Chinquapin is home to a variety of churches, and good, hardworking Christian people. Chinquapin is not being recognized on the news like it should because of its small size, but its story deserves to be told.
Sunday night, after approximately 70 hours, our power was restored. We’re very blessed for this short timeframe. Some of our family and friends’ power was restored after ours and was then disconnected again, along with their water. Others still haven’t had power restored at all. Many don’t even have a place to call home anymore.
I don’t know why God allowed Hurricane Florence to happen. This storm has caused more devastation to my area than any other hurricane I can remember. Thousands of His people have lost everything. But we’re still blessed. Hurricane Florence could have very well made landfall as a Category 4, but God spared us the worst. Even through these difficult times, His presence is still known. He’s still making a way.
Please keep Eastern North Carolina in your prayers, but especially the towns and cities listed below:
- New Bern
- Topsail Island
Among numerous others. Let’s also not forget our neighboring states of South Carolina, Georgia, West Virginia, and Virginia that were also affected.
Please Consider Donating to Hurricane Relief Through the Links Below:
American Red Cross
Thanks for reading, Arrowheads. Keep us in your prayers.