New Bern business owners reflect on Hurricane Florence amid pandemic struggles

Published: Sep. 14, 2020 at 8:22 PM EDT
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NEW BERN, N.C. (WITN) - It was two years ago Monday that Hurricane Florence left merchandise scattered across the floor at Nautical Wheeler’s in New Bern. Almost all of it was soaked in water, and mud left after record-setting storm surge washed through their doors.

“I remember that we had to pry the front door open because everything was swollen from being under water. It was just like a damp, dark memory back there,” explains Bill Wheeler, one of the store’s owners.

Businesses throughout downtown and across New Bern were crippled by Florence.

The storm caused more than $100 million of damage throughout the city.

Two years later though, that feeling of heartbreak and devastation is now a memory of it’s own.

“You know, Florence is in the past and in the rear-view mirror. And moving ahead we’re finding we have very loyal customers in New Bern,” says owner and wife Camilla Wheeler.

But for business owners like the Wheelers, the road to recovery hasn’t come without some bumps along the way.

“We were hoping for 2020 to be the year we really moved ahead and grew a bit, of course with COVID that hasn’t happened,” Camilla added.

Forcing the city’s Main Street Organization to find new ways to support their reeling businesses.

“It was just hard to imagine that there could be anything as crippling or more crippling [than Florence],” says Swiss Bear Executive Director Lynne Harakal.

Swiss Bear has provided that support though, through things like their loan program and the city’s Friday night street dining.

But Florence served as a wake-up call for business owners and residents alike.

Now city leaders are taking the steps to protect it’s charming and unique qualities through their resiliency and hazard mitigation program.

“We really need to take steps to understand our situation, understand our risk and vulnerability and be better prepared to take action steps moving forward,” says the city’s Community and Economic Development Manager Amanda Ohlensehlen.

The city says they received a great deal of feedback after Florence and are encouraging residents to get involved in the development of the their resiliency plan.

The first virtual public meeting was held on September 10th, with the next one scheduled for early 2021.

There is also a survey that residents can take on the city’s website.

The overall plan is likely to take 18-months to develop and will ultimately make the city better prepared for storms like Florence in the future.

Copyright 2020 WITN. All rights reserved.

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