When I moved to eastern Carolina in the spring of 1997, some of my first assignments were follow-ups on the devastation of Hurricane's Bertha & Fran from the previous year. Little did I know that would be a primer for what was to come.
Covering the anniversary of those hurricanes gave me a great sense of the destruction and devastation they caused. I saw water marks on houses where communities were destroyed in Kinston and elsewhere. I heard the stories of the personal, business and environmental impact those two hurricanes caused. I also learned why it is so important to be prepared and to listen to emergency officials when a hurricane is approaching.
As was the case with the folks who lived through Bertha and Fran, it was hard for me to believe in September of 1999 we were getting set to be slammed by yet another devastating hurricane. As we prepared at work and at home for what was to come, I remember the anxious feelings. I just wanted it to get here already. Many people in eastern Carolina were already fatigued, having just gone through Hurricane Dennis twice!
When Floyd finally made landfall it seemed as though there was a sense of relief by a lot of people. There was some wind damage, but not a lot. There was some initial flooding, but it seemed manageable. Then the unthinkable happened. The rivers everywhere started rising until just about every community had a full-fledged emergency/catastrophe on their hands.
Some of the days following Floyd are a blur because everyone was working round the clock, in less than ideal conditions, while also concerned about our own personal situations.
My journey's in the days after Floyd took me all throughout Washington and Beaufort County, Kinston and Lenoir County, Windsor in Bertie County, Hyde County, and many other locations. The destruction of lives, homes, businesses and communities is as fresh in my mind today as it was back then. I remember hitching rides on a five-ton military truck just to make it to work because Highway 17 was flooded. I remember going inside King Chicken in Kinston and watching workers see what was left of their business. They opened up refrigerators and freezers only to have the most foul-smelling flood water pour out. I reported from Windsor where just about every downtown business had everything ruined and thrown out on the sidewalks. I visited with families who lost everything, had no food to eat, and didn't know how or when things would get better. I remember the thousands and thousands of hogs that had nowhere to go and were killed. The environmental impact from flooded hog lagoons and wastewater treatment plants was mind-boggling.
The casual observer today may not see the lasting effects from Hurricane Floyd. It seems eastern Carolina has largely recovered and rebuilt. There are signs here and there that let people know how high the water got. There are communities where houses have been elevated or removed altogether. And there are some businesses that never came back.
The perseverance to get back to normal is commendable for all in eastern Carolina. But the real impact from Floyd is what remains inside those who lived through it. It may also be what helps all of us make it through the next one.