SOUTHEASTERN N.C. – A week after the storm made landfall at Wrightsville Beach, Florence continues to menace Southeastern North Carolina — both on and offshore.
After pummeling the region with wind and rain, the remnants of the storm haven’t dissipated and now have a slim chance to reform for a second go at the N.C. coast.
The National Hurricane Center is still monitoring the storm as it moves out into the Atlantic, but the latest track shows a 20-percent chance of reforming.
Victoria Oliva, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Wilmington office, said while there is a chance reforming, it is not likely to find the extremely favorable conditions that fueled Florence.
“It is moving very slow and it is not in a good environment,” she said Friday. “Right now, it is just a small system of storms. But there is a lot of dry air and strong upper level winds that would create shear, which tropical storms don’t like.”
The current track has the system moving southwest and then northeast, at which time it will become clear if it poses another threat to the United States.
If it survives despite those unfavorable conditions, Oliva said it could still influence the region’s forecast.
“It could bring some rainfall, but that might be seven or more days out,” she said. “Right now, it is all very, very unsure.”
If the tropical system reforms, it wouldn’t retain the name that has now been etched in the Carolinas’ history books.
If it reforms, it would be renamed Kirk.
Flooding woes continue
As many warily watch the situation offshore, the record rainfall associated with Florence continues to wreak havoc across much of Eastern North Carolina.
The N.C. Department of Transportation Friday said U.S. 421 near the New Hanover-Pender county line remains flooded and impassable. The highway had been one of the major re-entry routes back to Wilmington, and its closure Thursday left U.S. 17 — via Jacksonville — as one of the only reliable ways back into the Port City.
Parts of southwestern Brunswick County remained under a voluntary evacuation order as the Waccamaw River continued to rise.
Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram called the storm the most devastating he’s seen to hit the county, adding that he remains worried about what will happen once the floodwaters reach the Carolina Shores and Calabash area, which suffered significant flooding after heavy rainfalls in October 2015.
“We’re being faced with challenges right now we’ve never seen before,” Ingram said earlier this week.
In many areas of inland Pender County, the battle again the rising floodwaters continued. While the Northeast Cape Fear River crested Wednesday, the slow march of the floodwaters toward downtown Wilmington — where the Cape Fear River wasn’t expected to crest until early next week — still inundated many neighborhoods.
The Cross Creek subdivision is now “Ground Zero” for hurricane destruction in Pender County’s Hampstead community.
“We all thought we survived a hurricane and that’s what we were prepared for — we didn’t know any of this was going to happen,” said Colin Hunter who grew up in Cross Creek and has since lived there with his parents Sammy and Michelle Hunter on Oakmont Drive.
After neighbors started checking on each other after Hurricane Florence’s strongest winds swept through, waters started to rise.
There have always been some puddles in the neighborhood after rain events and some standing water in ditches, but nothing like this.
Officials estimate at least 50 to 60 homes are now flooded. Some just have dark and murky river water pooling in their crawl spaces and others are marinating in the septic- smelling murk chest-deep.
“They said it was going to crest Monday, then Tuesday, we’ve heard Thursday — we don’t know when it will crest,” said Harry Paterson whose home has waist-deep waters on the first floor. He started throwing all his belongings onto tabletops and other high surfaces when water first started appearing. Then he moved everything to the second floor when the water just kept coming.
Harrison Creek winds behind the neighborhood which sits on N.C. 210. That creek goes directly out to the Cape Fear.
Residents, like Hunter, say they had no choice once the water was rising earlier this week before they started helping pull people out of their homes. What started as checking on neighbors has evolved into a grassroots mission by the neighborhood with an unofficial task force. Public officials, Hunter said, were late to the party.
“We just grabbed canoes, John boats, anything we could find and helped people get their stuff out,” Hunter said. “People were throwing me dogs, cats, safes full of paperwork, food, just anything.”
Then as water crept too high over the roads for even big trucks to come through, neighbors feverishly used chainsaws to cut a makeshift trail in the woods between two neighborhood streets.
“We started saving cars as fast as we could — we were out there pulling vehicles through the trail for hours,” Hunter said.
Going it alone
Ask neighborhood leaders for a time line of when things started to get bad and they aren’t sure what day it is. Hunter and others just shrugged their shoulders and said all they knew is that they have been canoeing gas and supplies to and from homes for several days straight now.
Then there were strangers who came in the night up the river and the creek, trying to get in homes in the neighborhood. To stop looters the neighborhood has started taking shifts on night patrols by boat, floating over front yards and driveways shining flashlights.
But by Friday word was out in Hampstead about the devastation in Cross Creek. The typically quiet front entrance off N.C. 210 was a circus. A makeshift camp site sits in the back of the soccer field. Some are calling it a homeless shelter, as residents who lost their homes camp out. Friday donations of water and foods poured in the community to the site as clothes were hanging up to dry from a tree. A vacant home on Oakmont is now being used a shelter to house several without homes.
Another grassroots band of residents set up a tent at the front of the neighborhood and are patrolling stop non-residents for making things more chaotic. Dozens keep coming by to take a peek at the devastation or grab photos.
“We’ve asked for days for the county to help set up barricades,” said Greg Lovell who lives on Oakmont Drive. A small line of traffic was in front of him and he stopped to speak to each car.
Lovell said the residents have done everything in the aftermath of the hurricane from rescues, patrols from looters and are now stopping other from getting in the neighborhood. “We haven’t had any help and now we don’t want people coming in and telling us what to do.”