Some things are learned the hard way

Published 4:41 pm Friday, May 17, 2024

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In her column today, my newsroom partner, Holly Taylor, reminds us of the importance of pre-planning when it comes to preparing for the impact of a hurricane.

As she points out, it’s never too early to start putting together the items you and your family will need in the event of a weather-related emergency. You may find yourself isolated due to fallen trees or flooded roads, thus preventing emergency responders to come to your aid immediately. You may be that way for 48 hours or more. And even after help arrives, you may be without electrical power for a week or more, depending on the severity of the storm.

While the path of a hurricane is predictable, the damage they leave in their wake is not. Case in point is Hurricane Floyd…the storm that all others now must be measured against in terms of damage caused by flooding.

2024 marks the 25th anniversary of the Roanoke-Chowan area’s, as well as most all of eastern North Carolina’s, worst natural disaster. On Sept. 16, 1999, Hurricane Floyd came ashore along the Cape Fear River, making landfall near Wilmington. Once a Category 5 storm (packing winds of 155 mph), it had “weakened” to Category 2 strength (105 mph winds) at landfall. However, it still packed a punch, causing a devastating 15-foot-high storm surge that destroyed or damaged hundreds of houses along the ocean front at Long Beach, NC (south of Wilmington).

From there, Floyd charted a northward course, bringing what was deemed as the “Storm of the Century” over the Albemarle Sound region. It also brought drenching rain….20-plus inches over the inland portions of eastern North Carolina.

In his wake, the hurricane left Roanoke-Chowan property damages in excess of $105 million, not to mention the emotional scars etched deep into the souls of Floyd’s victims.

Many local residents lost homes and prized family treasures; some small business owners never recovered and forever closed their stores; and some local farmers suffered such staggering losses that they opted to never again till the soil for a living.

$35 million in agricultural losses alone made up more than one-third of the total damages. Northampton County farmers experienced the most damage where losses to the cotton, peanut and corn crops were estimated at $14.5 million. In Hertford County, major damage was reported totaling $11 million in agricultural losses. Bertie County lost 30 percent of its peanut, corn and cotton crops, and coupled with damage to tobacco and soybeans, Bertie was hit with $9.5 million in crop losses.

Local streams, creeks and rivers quickly reached flood stage and the areas located near these waterways paid the price.

Downtown Windsor was under water as the normally peaceful Cashie River spilled its banks. The tops of buildings, mostly businesses, were the only thing visible along King Street. One man died when he was swept away by the rapids of the Cashie River, while another man stood in water up to his neck behind the Hallmark Nursing Center before being rescued by the National Guard. The Lawrence Memorial Library lost 30,000 books, some one-of-a-kind treasures. Windsor’s total losses exceeded $30 million.

The R-C area’s largest town, Ahoskie, did not escape Floyd’s wrath with 106 single-family homes, 34 mobile homes and three businesses sustaining damage to the tune of $5 million. The Edgewood Drive/Lakewood Drive area adjacent to the Ahoskie Creek flooded so badly the property was eventually purchased by FEMA, turned over to Hertford County and then back to the Town of Ahoskie. That neighborhood would eventually transform into the Ahoskie Creek Recreational Complex.

In the rural areas of Hertford County, nearly 50 homes were impacted, including the complete loss of Stoney Creek Mobile Home Park on US 13 South. In the Ebo community off US 258 between Murfreesboro and Como, 42 residents were escorted to safety after their homes were compromised by the rapidly rising waters of the Meherrin River.

Northampton County’s residential and commercial business losses were not as great as their R-C area neighbors. However, some Northampton residents were caught by surprise with the fast-rising waters and had to be rescued from their homes. One of the hardest hit areas of the county was in the Severn community near the Meherrin River. Rich Square, as the county’s lowest lying area, also suffered flooding problems, as did the Woodland, Conway and Jackson areas.

Floyd’s flooding rains also greatly impacted local roads. Portions of the R-C area became islands, inaccessible by vehicle. This was especially true in Windsor due to the Cashie River. Also hard-hit were Lewiston, Ahoskie, Menola, St. John and Murfreesboro, with floodwaters from the Potecasi Creek covering NC 11, and US 158.

Northampton County travel was just as bad with portions of NC 35 near Woodland, Potecasi and Severn completely closed; along with portions of US 258 and 158.

Meanwhile, almost all back roads were impassable due to floodwaters. Some bridges were completely covered in water and sections of roadbeds were completely caved in, compromised due to the rushing water.

Massive power outages were felt across the region forcing a week of local school closings the entire week following the storm.

But on the positive side, there were countless heroes to thank: every local Emergency Management office, all branches of law enforcement, the fire departments and rescue units. Even local families, churches, and individuals pitched in to help those in need. And finally, complete strangers who sought to offer aid, many coming from other parts of North Carolina.

If there were major lessons to be learned from Floyd, it’s that there’s always a silver lining to every sad story: the revelation of the need for changes in construction and insurance, and most importantly: the resilience of the people.

And it also serves as a lesson to always have a plan in place, as well as a survival kit, in the event of severe weather. We all learned that the hard way 25 years ago.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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