Ten years ago I was still on the other side of the camera, a reporter for WTVD in Durham and covering news from their Wilson newsroom. But my memories of Hurricane Floyd actually begin the night before.
Wednesday night, September 15th, 1999 we were assigned to do coverage in Goldsboro, along the Neuse River. After Hurricane Dennis, there was considerable flooding around Goldsboro and it was felt the Neuse would likely flood again. After completing live shots that night around midnight, we were told to go home and be ready to do more the following morning around 8:00. But when I got back in Wilson, streets were already starting to flood from the rains that preceded the hurricane. It took me more than an hour to find a way home, as I was determined not to spend the night in a shelter.
Catching just a few hours of sleep, I woke up around 5:30 a.m. Thursday as the storm passed over Wilson. Fortunately there was no damage in my neighborhood. My photographer lived nearby, so we were able to pair up and start covering the story. Eventually we made it to our newsroom in Wilson, which had no power. Through a little improvising, we were able to get power to the necessary equipment so we could send raw video back to Durham. Those were the first pictures of damage in the East that people of the Triangle saw from Floyd.
Unfortunately, the satellite truck that we worked with the night before in Goldsboro had spent the night at a hotel along I-95 in Wilson. It took them from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. to find a way to where we were. The next day, that path--coming up on Highway 117 from Goldsboro--was cut off from rising waters.
Thursday and Friday we were "trapped" in Wilson, doing what stories we could on the flooding and damage in the area. By Saturday we found a back way to Rocky Mount. The flooding in Rocky Mount was a real eye-opener as we were lucky to get someone with a boat to take us through the worst hit areas. Complete neighborhoods there were under water.
By Sunday my photographer and myself found a way to Tarboro and witnessed most of their downtown flooded. Businesses tried in vain with sandbags and anything else to keep the rising waters from getting inside. Across the Tar River was Princeville and at that point no one could get there.
On Monday, President Clinton was coming to visit Tarboro and another crew was covering that, but we thought we had a better story. Through a friend, we had arranged for N.C. Wildlife officers to take us in their boat through Princeville. As far as we knew, no other news organization had seen the town. What we saw was complete devastation. Every home in the town was under water, at least to the first floor. In the boat we had to dodge an overhead traffic signal at one of Princeville's busiest intersections. The most startling sight was seeing people's dogs clinging to roofs of homes. As the flood waters rose, the animals looked for anything to hold on to. At one point, the wildlife officers came across a dog swimming down a street. We all tried to get the animal in the boat, but he was probably too scared and swam off. Luckily, we saw the dog make its way to a nearby roof. As we went through the area, officers would stop and dish out dog food to those animals still trapped. Amazingly, everyone made it out of Princeville alive.
For the next month we were on hurricane recovery duty. We were there when they opened up Princeville back to residents. Though there was nothing left for them to go back to, people still wanted to see for themselves what had happened. We helped one store owner "break in" to his corner market. Coolers had shifted inside, blocking the doors, but we got in. Once inside, the owner knew exactly where he kept some hidden cash. He found the muddy cash, and felt he had won a small victory against Floyd.
The images that I will never forget about Floyd are seeing the red X's spray painted on all the homes and the holes in roofs and gables. The X's signified homes that had been checked for victims, and the holes told us that people were rescued from those attics and crawl spaces.
A year after Floyd, I moved away from Eastern Carolina for a time, but I never forgot those lasting memories of living through North Carolina's worst natural disaster.