Floyd, plus 10

Hurricane Floyd's flood waters devastated parts of Eastern North Carolina. Scars remain.

September 16, 2009 

There are stories, so many stories, from those days 10 years ago, when a hurricane named Floyd made landfall in North Carolina. It was not so much the wind, but the rain, and the rain and the rain. Tropical Storm Dennis had hit the state two weeks before, and the ground was still soaked. When Floyd came ashore on Sept. 16, the last thing people from Wilmington to Kinston to Rocky Mount needed was more water. But they got it -- two feet of rain in some places, lesser but excessive amounts in many others.

When it was over, there was a breathtaking $6 billion in damage. Some 52 people were dead, most drowned, many washed away in cars. The town of Princeville, on the Tar River east of Rocky Mount, had at the time about 2,000 residents and laid claim to being the oldest town in America chartered by black residents. Floyd's floods virtually wiped it out. In Kinston, neighborhoods near the Neuse River met the same fate. Seven Springs, a few miles west of Kinston along the Neuse, had 170 people in it then; its population remains half of what it was.

And all over the swath of the eastern part of the state hit hardest by flood waters, there are sad, sad stories of lost family members. The News & Observer's Martha Quillin wrote of one from Swansboro, the historic town at the mouth of the White Oak River not far from Camp Lejeune. Today, Mary Carole and Wesley Mobley still grieve for their son, Paul, and their granddaughter, Emily, who were swept away by flooding.

Thanks to various forms of public help, some communities have recuperated, and others have acted to see that another massive flood would not find as many people vulnerable. (Kinston, for example, got the word to homeowners that federal emergency money and some from the state would help people buy homes outside the floodplain, and the city saw to it that the sites of homes ravaged by flooding would not be used again.) Princeville's population is even a little above pre-flood numbers. But other, smaller places just aren't coming back, a fact that remaining residents calmly accept.

And here's a toast to the human spirit. The overall recovery, the attitude that people have taken about it, the determination they have brought to it, have been something of a triumph. That the people of the state, many of whom have seen more than one natural disaster (albeit not on the scale of Floyd's floods), could stay strong and put their determination to labors both spiritual and physical is inspiring but not surprising.

The ominous winds of 10 years ago and the rains and floods that followed them were terrifying indeed, but lessons were learned in terms of mapping flood plains and disaster preparedness that will stand the state in good stead. And other lessons were reaffirmed. Said one Seven Springs resident: "We realized how good people are."

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