North Carolina

Florence live updates from the field Monday: In Fayetteville, a sunset before the storm

Our reporters and photojournalists are in the field throughout the Carolinas reporting on the effects of Florence. Their Sunday reports are here and their Saturday reporters are here.

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Fayetteville, NC: Here comes the sun(set)

After days without a sunset — or the sun, for that matter — Monday evening’s sunset over the Cape Fear River was stirring enough to bring dozens of onlookers to the Person Street bridge in East Fayetteville.

And that was in the face of a mandatory citywide curfew timed almost concurrently with the end of daylight.

The reason: a chance to assess a rising Cape Fear that is expected to crest at nearly 62 feet, a number that hasn’t been seen since the 1940s and is 3 feet higher than Hurricane Matthew’s crest two years ago.

“This is quite the occasion for us,” said Jane Horne, who drove into Fayetteville with members of her family from the nearby town of Stedman.

Tree trunks float down the rising Cape Fear River through Fayetteville, N.C. towards a bridge on Person St. on Monday, September 17, 2018. Julia Wall

The Cape Fear, fueled by rain from the remnants of Hurricane Florence, is forecasted to reach its zenith sometime on Tuesday morning. Yet despite its growing ferocity, many watching it on Monday evening still rated its strength during Hurricane Matthew as stronger.

“Matthew came so quickly that no one really had time to prepare,” said Nicole Arnette of Stedman, noting that the river didn’t appear to be moving as quickly as it did two years ago. “That rain all came in a 24-hour period, while this time it came over three days.”

Horne added that Matthew caused flood waters to reach her home in 2016 — but the waters have already started receding before reaching her home this time.

The slow nature of Hurricane Florence, thankfully, allowed the city and county to better prepare for the storm’s effects, said Monica Willaford of Fayetteville.

“Because of Matthew they got (warnings) out earlier,” Willaford said.

Willaford said she came to the bridge with her sister, Tonya, to check on a homeless camp that lives under the bridge. But the camp already had moved, she said.

“In 2016, they had to be evacuated,” Willaford said.

Linda Hill, also of Stedman, commended officials for getting flood warnings out earlier. She also noted that fire departments from across the country, including New York, had traveled to Fayetteville and that troops from Fort Bragg and the National Guard were also assisting.

“They gave plenty of warning” this time, Hill said. And, she thought, residents who lived close to the river were more likely to evacuate this time because of the memory of Matthew.

But the river is still going to rise, and overnight thunderstorms are going to keep raising water levels in the area.


Jane Horne of Stedman, N.C. takes a picture of the sunset over the rising Cape Fear River from the bridge on Person St. in Fayetteville, N.C. on Monday, September 17, 2018. Julia Wall

Raleigh, NC: Pets get shelter, too

The N.C. State Fairgrounds became a staging ground for animals rescued from flooded animal shelters. Monday, a dozen volunteers filled the Holshouser Building to care for dogs rescued from the Carteret County Humane Society.

The New Port animal shelter was flooded and its roof had collapsed this past weekend, with more than 100 cats and dogs needing rescue. Most of those dogs and cats made the treacherous and long journey from Carteret County in eastern North Carolina to the fairgrounds Sunday night.

Apex-based Peak Lab Rescue was one of the groups that traveled down to the animal shelter to bring the animals to the fairgrounds.

Kelli Ferris, a veterinarian from N.C. State University, helped organize the staging area and oversaw the medical exams.

“This is the culmination of a lot of organizations and volunteers,” she said. “It takes a lot of rescue groups and caretakers to pull this off.”

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There the animals were given a medical exam, fed, counted and photographed. In the coming days the fairground building will empty and the dogs and cats will be sent to other rescue groups around the state and country.

Unlike when more than 400 animals stayed at the building after Hurricane Floyd, this was just temporary staging area. People can’t adopt or foster the animals at this time, but rescue groups are still needed to help take the animals in. Interested groups can contact Nicole Kincaid at 919-264-5390 or

Word had gotten out about the need for pet food, paper towels and blankets, and the outer rim of the building was filled with donations. The volunteers put out on Facebook they no longer needed donations, but blankets were still being delivered Monday. Any donations not used will be sent to animal shelters and rescues that were affected by the hurricane.


From left, Stephanie Lut, a vet technician from Georgia who works with Vet Techs Without Borders and Dr. Colleen Peat, who came to Raleigh from Wilmington with her family to weather the storm, work with one of several dogs Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, brought to the North Carolina State Fairgrounds, which is a staging ground for animals rescued from flooded animal shelters. Peat’s friend, Susan Keen, also volunteered her time on Monday. Juli Leonard

Wilmington and Pembroke, NC: When will UNCW, UNCP reopen?

UNC-Wilmington and UNC-Pembroke are still assessing damage and haven’t set a date for students to return after Hurricane Florence. The campuses are in areas with flooding and without power.

UNC-Pembroke will remain closed through at least Wednesday but possibly longer. The university instructed students not to return until they have been notified that it’s safe to do so.

UNC-Wilmington posted a message Monday saying the campus would not reopen this week; a firm date for reopening has not been set, but reports of the semester being canceled are false, the university stressed.

University officials in Wilmington also are trying to dispel rumors on social media that the campus was heavily damaged, including a dire description of the science building, Dobo Hall, losing its roof. The university said the building had sustained damage, “but not irreversible damage,” according to a post on Facebook Sunday.

“Remember that rumors of campus or city damage, open or closed roadways, or our reopening should not be considered fact,” the university’s Facebook page continued Monday. “We can stand behind only the messaging sent via campus email or posted on the university’s Facebook feed or on this temporary homepage. We are not yet in a position to respond to individual questions about campus status or the potential impact on our academic calendar.”

UNCW and UNCP started relief funds to help its students who have been affected by the storm. Donations can be made at special websites here and here.


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Morrisville, NC: NC National Guard rescues aren’t over

A five-person team within the North Carolina National Guard has rescued nearly 240 people from New Bern’s flood waters this past weekend.

In all, the state National Guard has assisted or solely rescued more than 600 people throughout the state and has more than 60 aircrafts within the Civil Air Patrol deployed to help with the rescue operations.

The first priority of the National Guard during and in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Florence has been the protection of life, said Maj. Gen. Greg Lusk, Adjutant General of the North Carolina National Guard.

In an update to troops in Morrisville Monday afternoon, Lusk thanked the guardsman for their service, selflessness and dedication during the storm.

“I think we need to emphasize that our guardsmen are victims of this storm, too,” he said. “And some of them have been on duty since the beginning. And don’t know their status at home and left their families and possessions behind.”

There are nearly 3,000 men and women within the state’s National Guard helping in some of the areas of the state that were hit hardest by the storm.

The rescues aren’t over, Lusk said, adding they’d likely be moving people to Lumberton and into the Sandhills as rivers continue to rise from the slow-moving storm that dumped large quantities of rain through the area.


Conway, SC: Pregnant woman worries about flooding

Emy Chamberlain is seven months pregnant. She and her fiance Brenden Wellings were getting ready for the arrival of their first child — a baby girl. But now they’re shifting gears as the water in the Waccamaw River rises from the impacts of Hurricane Florence near their Conway-area home.

The young couple moved their new baby supplies to the highest part of their Waccamaw Drive home on stilts, just off U.S. 501. The two, who live with Chamberlain’s mother and her fiance, have a boat already in the back of Wellings’ pick-up truck. Their waders are ready.

“We’ve just kind of moved things up higher,” Chamberlain said Sunday evening.

The couple plans to stay in Carolina Forest through possible flooding. “You just want to stay home, but you don’t know how home’s going to be,” she said.

Within a day, the water on Waccamaw Drive went from puddles to completely flooded roads and bumper-high levels in Wellings’ truck Monday morning.

Chest-deep water surrounds Emy Chamberlain in the flood after Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Courtesy of Brenden Wellings

Chamberlain has been through floods after three major storms — Matthew, Irma and Fran. She’s lived in the home on stilts her whole life — a home where you can still see the water-mark line from Hurricane Matthew.

“You’re sitting there watching and there’s all these leeches and snakes,” Chamberlain said.

But this time is different. Chamberlain, 22, said being pregnant makes it tougher, but she is trying to stay positive.

“It’s like you’re preparing for (the baby’s arrival), and then you’re preparing for this (flooding),” she said. “You can choose to be in a bad mood and let it depress you. At this point, you already know it’s coming. You’re used to it.”

The family will continue to go back and forth to the home as the water rises, using boats and wading as they can.


Chapel Hill, NC: UNC football team collecting supplies

4:01 p.m.: The North Carolina football team will offer its 18-wheel equipment truck to take non-perishable food items and supplies across the state to victims of Hurricane Florence, UNC football coach Larry Fedora said Monday.

The university will be accepting donations from the public Tuesday through Friday. On Friday, the truck will deliver the supplies and food to those in need.

“We’re willing to do anything that we can to help anybody in the state right now,” Fedora said.

The university will set up the truck and start taking donations at the Williamson Center parking lot (450 Skipper Bowles Drive, Chapel Hill) across the street from the Dean Smith Center on Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. They’ll accept donations Tuesday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. until 6 p.m., and on Friday from 7:30 a.m. until noon.

The school is collecting for water, non-perishable food, canned goods, diapers, flashlights, batteries, cleaning supplies and personal hygiene items.


Lumberton, NC: An opening in the levee

3:45 p.m.: A temporary plug designed to block the Lumber River from pouring through a rail line opening in Lumberton’s levee has failed.

Water is coming through the opening, which workers had filled with gravel and sand ahead of and during Hurricane Florence.

Nearby residents had been told to evacuate because of concerns the temporary plug would not hold.

Emily Jones, a spokeswoman for Robeson County, said workers have been pumping out the water that came through the opening.


Chapel Hill, NC: ‘My car’s in there’

12:45 p.m.: Steve Hammer, took off his shoes, rolled up his pants and waded into the muddy, brown water at Eastgate Crossing in Chapel Hill.

His 2005 Pontiac G6 sat with water halfway up its wheels — and a line of dirt just below the door handles where the water had peaked.

Steve Hammer, 40, returns to his Pontiac G6 at Eastgate Crossing in Chapel Hill on Monday. He had left the car at the shopping center when the battery shorted Sunday and had not thought about the possibility of flooding. The water peaked just below the door handles. Mark Schultz

“The battery shorted,” said Hammer, 40. The Carrboro resident had left the car at the shopping center Sunday night while he helped a friend with handyman work.

“I didn’t even think about the potential for flooding,” he said.

He took an Uber back to Eastgate on Monday morning, and when he saw the water covering the parking lot said, “Oh crap, my car’s in there.”

Hammer bought the car two months ago from a friend, he said.

“I’m still making payments on it.”


Hope Mills, NC: Time to move the animals

Carrboro, NC: Several roads blocked

11:45 a.m.: Town officials reported several blocked roads and some residents who were evacuated from flooded neighborhoods.

Two residents were evacuated from Estes Park Apartments, Carrboro Fire Chief Susanna Williams reported in an email to Town Manager David Andrews. Other residents of the apartment complex sought shelter at a friend’s house, she said. Residents in the Yorktown and Heritage Hills neighborhoods decided to stay in their homes, she added.

Flood waters surge through the intersection of Estes Drive Extension and Greensboro Street in Carrboro, NC Monday morning as heaving rains moved through the area. Julia Wall

Carrboro Police blockaded several roads as the rains pushed creeks and University Lake over their banks, including the Jones Ferry Road bridge over the lake and the intersection of North Greensboro Street and Estes Drive.

Smith Level Road was closed for a time after a tree fell early Monday morning, Williams said. Crews were still checking on floodprone areas, she said, including the area around Jones Ferry Road and Springhill Forest Road, just west of Old Greensboro Road. Williams said the town was working with neighboring agencies to respond to that area, where the road was washed out and impassable.

“Had a Carrboro resident stop in to [Carrboro Fire] Station 1,” Williams noted. “His daughter is trapped in her home in Wilmington. I called a contact in Wilmington EOC and they are initiating a rescue to get her extracted.”


Lumberton, NC: An open grocery store is a bright spot

11:30 a.m.: The sun came out Monday morning in Lumberton and the lights came on at the IGA grocery store on N.C. Highway 211. Hard to say which brightened Vickie Pittman’s day more.

“It’s fantastic,” Pittman said, wheeling a cart full of groceries out of the store, where the windows are still boarded but managers were allowing a dozen or so people in at a time. A steady line of people came throughout the morning, queuing up on the sidewalk, some fanning themselves with their grocery lists.

Generators have kept perishables cold while the area has been without power, and shoppers were delighted by the chance to get something fresh.

Rita McGee stocked food at her house before Hurricane Florence to feed her family of three, but four days later, they’ve eaten it all, she said.

Cassandra Council came out of the store with a cart full: laundry soap, drinks, chili, soup. Council is from White Oak, but evacuated to Lumberton because of threats of high water in the area wher she lives. She is staying with relatives who have electricity.

Driving to the store was a challenge, she said, because many neighborhood roads are flooded.

Volunteers trying to get to Lumberton to provide aid have met similar challenges. The North Carolina Baptist Men and Women on Mission, a relief group based in Cary, arrived in Lumberton on Saturday to begin preparations to establish a feeding center in town. Site manager Glen Riggs of Durham said he got to town as the highway he traveled was being covered with water.

Supply trucks arrived Sunday night bringing the food that Riggs’ volunteers will cook and serve starting — they hope — on Tuesday at Hyde Park Baptist Church. Teams of trained volunteers with the organization are trying to get to Lumberton from Western North Carolina.

RAL_ FlorenceMondayme091618rs133f.JPG
People in Lumberton, NC, were more than happy to stand in line Monday morning as many businesses in the area re-opened after being closed due to Tropical Storm Florence. Vickie Pittman, above, walked to her car after filling a shopping cart at the IGA store on N.C. Highway in Lumberton. “It’s fantastic, we needed things,’’ she said. Rich Sugg

Pastor Jeff Blackburn said church members are ready to help as soon as they’re needed.

The Baptist Men and Women have three feeding trucks they can send out after disaster, and the other two are operating in New Bern and Wilmington. This site will be a drive-through operation only, just like it was after Hurricane Matthew in 2016. It will be able to serve 20,000 meals a day.

Mobile showering and laundry units also are on the way.

Riggs said a trooper for the N.C. Highway Patrol had been out all morning trying to scope out a safe route for volunteers to use to get to Lumberton. Interstate 95 remains underwater in several places where it passes through the city and is closed.

Though the Lumber River remains high and a temporary fill where a railroad bridge cuts through the town’s levee has been leaking since it was hurriedly built over the past several days, the levee held through Sunday night, keeping a bad situation from becoming even worse.


Chapel Hill, NC: ‘It doesn’t look like anything’s receding’

10:42 a.m.: Chapel Hill police and the South Orange Rescue Square rescued people from Camelot Village Condominiums on South Estes Drive.

“It doesn’t look like anything’s receding here,” a police officer said on his radio.

Public safety spokesman Ran Northam said a total of 12 people had been rescued from the flooded complex.

“We do anticipate more rain this afternoon, so we’re not out of it yet,” Northam said.

Nicholas Ebel, 12, of Chapel Hill skimboards on the flooded parking lot at Eastgate Crossing shopping center in Chapel Hill on Monday, Sept. 17, 2018. Mark Schultz

Although town staff went door-to-door at the complex on Wednesday, handing out fliers and asking residents to move to the emergency shelter at Smith Middle School, that shelter closed Sunday.

Northam did not know whether those residents went home or to some other shelter.

Emergency responders returned to the complex around midnight Sunday to let residents know the water was about 6 feet above flood stage and rising. Several residents agreed to evacuate to the Red Cross shelter at UNC’s Friday Center, Northam said.

Bolin Creek.JPG
Flood waters from Bolin Creek inundate Bolin Park in Chapel Hill Monday morning. Officer Drew Cabe Chapel Hill Police

By Monday morning, the floodwaters had reached 10.5 feet, equal to flood levels seen during a devastating June 2013 flood at Camelot Village. That storm damaged 72 of 116 condos, forcing residents to evacuate and many to move away. Another flood followed in December 2013, affecting 21 condos.

The complex has been evacuated multiple times in the past for flooding. Although the town contacted the Federal Emergency Management Agency more than once about buying out the complex, which was built in 1967 between two floodplains, officials have not been able to strike a deal with condo owners, many of whom do not live there.

The FEMA program requires all owners of a building to agree to sell before buying a floodprone property. Properties purchased using the federal program are demolished, and the land is left undeveloped.


Spring Lake, NC: ‘A thing I love has become so dangerous’

10:30 a.m.: Natalie Allen said she’s “heartbroken.”

She was evacuated from her second-floor apartment in Spring Lake by Spring Lake Fire-Rescue and a Fort Bragg rescue team on Monday, when the nearby Little River swelled to her building in a matter of hours. It flooded the first floor, along with cars in nearby parking lots, and rushed quickly just behind the apartment buildings.

“I’m a water baby, I love the water,” Allen told the News & Observer, after stripping off her life jacket and while holding her dog, Ztormme, along with what she could carry from her home.

Allen is new to Fayetteville and said she was thrilled when she moved in to know she’d be near water. But now that same water put her in danger.

“I’m heartbroken that a thing I love so much became so dangerous,” Allen said.

Capt. Steven Barker with Spring Lake Fire Department helps evacuate residents from the Heritage at Fort Bragg Apartments in Spring Lake, N.C., Monday Sept. 17, 2018. Ethan Hyman

Pfc. MacKayla Dennis and her dogs, Estrella and Momo, live in another building at the Heritage at Fort Bragg Apartments.

Dennis and Estrella watched the evacuation and the rising water. Their home is next in line to flood if the water keeps rising.

“We’re going to get out,” said Dennis, who moved to the area in May and has never experienced a hurricane. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Courtney Pelczynski, her husband Leighton, and their dog, Kaya, also were evacuated from the second floor. Laden with bags — including Kaya’s dog food — the Pelczynskis were led out of the apartment building, wading through water to their knees, with Kaya tugging at the leash and splashing through the water.

Lt. Tommy Elder Jr. with Spring Lake Fire Department high-fives a resident after helping evacuate her from the Heritage at Fort Bragg Apartments in Spring Lake, N.C., Monday Sept. 17, 2018. Ethan Hyman

Florence was Pelczynski’s first hurricane, too. She and her husband are from Pennsylvania, she said.

“I came out to walk the dog at 6 a.m., and I could still leave the building,” Pelczynski said. “We had food and water. We thought we could wait it out. But it came up so fast. We were just blindsided.”


Southport, NC: Nuclear state of emergency

10:10 a.m.: Duke Energy’s Brunswick nuclear plant, about 30 miles south of Wilmington, has declared a state of emergency because the 1,200-acre complex is cut off by flood waters and and inaccessible to outside personnel. The plant has declared the lowest level of emergency, as required by Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said NRC spokesman Joey Ledford.

The problem is that no one can come in and relieve the workers who have been on site for days.

Ledford said the twin-reactor nuclear plant is stable and poses no threat to public safety. It has offsite power from the grid to cool the nuclear reactor and radioactive nuclear waste at the site.

Charlotte-based Duke shut down the two reactors ahead of the advancing storm when Florence was a Category 4 hurricane. Federal law requires nuclear operators to shut down nuclear reactors when sustained wind speeds are at 74 miles per hour or faster.

Goldsboro, NC: ‘Water Damage Specialists’

9:45 a.m.: Jeff and Maureen Winter left New Hampshire three years ago for a single-story house with a big basement overlooking Falling Creek south of Goldsboro. Twice since then hurricanes have turned the three-foot-wide creek into a river that swallowed their backyard and in-ground swimming pool and sent six feet of water into the basement.

Jeff Winter will handle most of the cleanup work himself. He’s a painting contractor, and on the top of his business card and prominently painted on the side of his truck parked in front of his house are the words “Water Damage Specialists.”

Standing on his back deck late Sunday, Winter described what you would see if the water wasn’t rushing past, including grass, a four-foot-chainlink fence and a small pier that led to the creek. The water flowing across his backyard seemed to be receding, he said.

“I got a lot of work to do when it leaves,” he said. “That creek water is gross.”

Roommates from left, Yobany Castillo and Numan Herrera clear out the last items from Herrera’s mobile home on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018, located in the Edwards Mobile Park that flooded during Hurricane Matthew. Castillo and Herrera had spent most of the evening moving the majority of the furniture to a storage unit and was planning on locking the home up. It took a year for Herrera to repair the home after severe flooding from Hurricane Matthew. Juli Leonard

In contrast to the torrent outside, the water in the basement was stagnant, with paint cans floating in it. After Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Winter said he spent three days pressure-washing what is his workshop, then repainted with a special paint that’s supposed to resist mold. He didn’t sound discouraged Sunday or regretful about moving to North Carolina.

“I’m almost 58,” he said. “I’m not going back up north.”


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