Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Hurricane Florence dumped record rainfall on eastern N.C.

Lakebay Road in Vass was among more than 1,000 roads closed as a result of flooding after Hurricane Florence. Photo courtesy of The Pilot newspaper.

Pembroke Mayor Greg Cummings was on the ground, and Steve Troxler in the air. But as Hurricane Florence’s rains pushed Tar Heel rivers to record heights in mid-September, both witnessed the same results in Robeson County, one of dozens of communities ravaged by the storm.

“It was awful in Lumberton to see an area hit so hard by Matthew totally devastated again,” says Troxler, N.C. commissioner of agriculture, after a five-and-a-half-hour aerial damage survey. In October 2016, Hurricane Matthew dumped more than 15 inches of rain on already-wet ground. “Scary thing is, we don’t know what we’ll find when the water goes down,” he says.

Florence shattered rainfall records, pouring 34 inches in areas such as Swansboro, eclipsing the previous benchmark of 24 inches from Hurricane Floyd in 1999. As of mid-September, Florence had left 37 dead, including 27 in North Carolina and eight in South Carolina. More than 1,000 roads were closed. For days, Wilmington, population almost 120,000, was inaccessible by land.

Days after the storm, Troxler’s initial assessment for the state’s $84 billion agriculture industry was somber. His first impression, though, was that remedial efforts after Floyd helped. After Floyd, the state paid $20 million to shut down 43 hog farms with more than 100 waste lagoons in flood-prone areas.

But Floyd’s $1.1 billion in agricultural damage is likely to be swamped by the wind and rain of Florence. Initial assessments showed 5,500 hogs dead and about 3.4 million turkeys and chickens drowned, double Matthew’s toll.

One concern is the open lagoons that can flood and break, dumping waste into rivers and streams. New Bern resident Richard Dove does aerial surveys of storm consequences as a senior adviser for the nonprofit Waterkeeper Alliance, an environmental organization. “I’ve been following hurricanes in North Carolina for 25 years. … These facilities are in harm’s way and always getting washed out.”

Many hogs drowned, while others were killed when winds collapsed barns, according to the N.C. Pork Council. But the group insists that municipal water systems cause more environmental damage. During Matthew, more than 154 million gallons of untreated human waste leaked into rivers, the council says.

In Robeson, local lawmakers have pressed the Army Corps of Engineers to channel Lumber River swamps where downed trees from past storms, beaver impoundments and other problems pool water during heavy rains, making flooding worse. Cummings estimates the channeling would cost $20 million to $30 million. A crumbling dam upstream from Lumberton is particularly troublesome, he says. If the dam breaks, it would cut off Interstate 95 for months, he says.

“We’ve been in contact with authorities, but I feel like we’ve been left out. These storms are getting more monstrous, but they forget about us after the storm.”

Greeneville, Tenn.-based Adams Publishing Group will acquire The Daily Reflector in Greenville, The Rocky Mount Telegram and The Daily Advance in Elizabeth City. The newspapers were owned by Cooke Communications.

WILSON — BB&T will invest $35 million in a 95,000-square-foot downtown office building that will accommodate 650 workers. Started here in 1872, the Winston-Salem-based bank employs about 2,200 people locally. Two existing office towers that previously served as the bank’s headquarters will be demolished.

WILMINGTON — Live Oak Bank started a registered investment adviser firm called Live Oak Private Wealth. The firm will operate separate from the bank and cater to wealthy individuals and families. Andy Basinger, Jason Carroll, Bill Coleman and Connor Keller will be managing directors.

FAYETTEVILLE — Information-technology consultant Booz Allen Hamilton will add 208 jobs over the next five years. The McLean, Va.-based defense contractor, which currently employs 315 in Cumberland County, could receive about $2 million in state and local incentives.

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