Infrastructure Destroyed and Residents Displaced

Hurricane Florence arrived on the Carolina

Coast in the fall of 2018 and destroyed

infrastructure, property, displaced residents, and

the recovery is not over. Making matters worse

is the areas’ recent encounter with a similar

hurricane two years ago; Hurricane Matthew.

Hurricane Matthew was first hypothesized to be

a storm that would only be experienced once in

every half millennium.

Only two years later Hurricane Florence

was said to be a storm bringing in the type of

waterlogged destruction only to be seen every

1,000 years, and it impacted the same region.

“In an area like Robeson County, there is an

immense area of 100-year floodplain, because

it’s so flat and the areas that are close to the

river, the swampy areas, are large,” said Martin

Farley, professor and chair of the department

of geology and geography at the University of

North Carolina at Pembroke.

Cities like Lumberton, which sit beside the

Lumber River have floodplains within their city

limits.

“My simple advice, don’t build in

floodplains,” said Wesley Highfield, an associate

professor of marine biology at Texas Agricultural

& Mechanical University.

Some residents who live in floodplains are

advised to move and simply choose not to. The

cost of moving to another location or leaving

behind a home that they hold dear is worth the

risk of flooding.

For the floodplains to be fully evacuated and

used for environmental conservation, the residents

living in the area must all agree to let their

land be purchased by the local government.

This is difficult because the local government

must first get all residents to agree to the process

and secondly because the funding necessary

for projects like this are often too great to be

covered without outside sponsors.

Pembroke officials recently published new

zoning plans that should alleviate damage from

flooding experienced in past hurricane seasons.

In the wake of Hurricane Matthew many

questions concerning public safety, emergency

relief, and city plans for future disasters have

arisen. One major area of concern is the possibility

that the city of Lumberton and CSX, a railroad

company, neglected to do all that they could to

deter flooding, potentially endangering the lives

of residents.

According to an article posted on WRAL.com, a

gap created by a CSX railroad underpass through

Interstate 95 in the town’s levees was the cause for

significant flooding to the western section of Lumberton .

The city of Lumberton opened a lawsuit against

CSX claiming that the company prioritized its railways

over the lives of Lumberton citizens.

North Carolina Dams have been pushed to

their limits after Matthew and Florence came in

such quick succession. Officials sent warnings

to evacuate to cities like New Bern in fear of

dams breaching and heavily monitored water

activity around the dams. In Fayetteville,

residents are suing the city because it failed to

rebuild broken and damaged dams in the area.

Slow response rates to matters of public

safety have left many citizens questioning their

local government.

False reports of breaking dams were issued

by members of communities like Hope Mills,

causing many families to evacuate prematurely in fear

for their lives. Hoke County also experienced a

similar situation where residents jumped the gun

and, instead of waiting for official instruction,

hastily left the area because of false reports of

the dam breaking.

The dam in Hope Mills broke under the

stress of the consistent downpour caused by

Hurricane Matthew two years prior.

Due to Florence, dams in Anson County,

Boiling Springs and Wilmington broke and

caused considerable damage and resident

displacement, especially in Wilmington’s case

where the city was surrounded by water which

trapped residents in the city limits.

According to data submitted to the National

Inventory of Dams, North Carolina has 1,445

dams rated high hazard out of about 5,700 dams

total. The hazard rate doesn’t indicate the condition

of the dam but rather the risk the community

will face if the dam were to break. However, of

those 1,445 dams that are placed in precarious

positions 185 are classified as being in poor or

unsatisfactory condition.

Another area of concern is left unaddressed

by local government - renovated drainage

systems. In the city of Lumberton residents said

that they don’t believe the city was prepared

for Hurricane Matthew and that there was little

changed in preparation for Florence.

“I can recall...driving around my neighborhood,

watching the water rise, thinking this can’t

happen again,” said James Bass, director of the

Givens Performing Arts Center at the University

of North Carolina at Pembroke.

Many residents claim that they have yet to

receive any help from FEMA after applying.

In some cases, applicants were simply denied

while in other cases the applicants were given

insubstantial amounts of money to make a lasting

difference in their situation. Another issue with

FEMA is the inconsistency with who is accepted

and who is denied. Many claim that those in

better financial positions and who suffered less

from the storm are often given assistance priority

over poorer, more needing applicants.

“They denied me, because I got help with

the first flood...but I know people that they

helped with Matthew and also helped them with

[Hurricane Florence]” said Urshula Locklear, a

resident of Pembroke whose trailer was damaged

by both Hurricanes Matthew and Florence.

BreAnna Branch, Program Director for

Communities in Schools of Robeson County,

saw a need and filled it. Branch helped get the

community of Lumberton involved in the relief

effort by organizing groups of students from the

University of North Carolina at Pembroke and

providing resources for middle schoolers whose

families were impacted by the storm.

Branch stated “[The] Local community getting

things done and mobilizing immediately...Our

area knows our area,” on what matters most.

Members of the nearby University of North

Carolina at Pembroke also came to the aid of

those devastated by Hurricane Florence.

“I’m from the west coast so I never realized

how much damage water could do,” said

Michael Perez, a business marketing major

who attends the University of North Carolina at

Pembroke.

Perez, after seeing the destruction that Florence

wreaked on the community raised over $3,000

for the relief effort. “It’s a problem that a lot of

people who aren’t from here don’t understand.

When I showed them the pictures of the houses

we were helping at they were happy to help.”


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