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Carolinas face strike three

BY SUSAN KIM | NORTH CAROLINA | October 17, 1999

NORTH CAROLINA (Oct. 17, 1999) -- As Miami residents mop up -- or

wait for floodwaters to recede so they can start -- their

counterparts in the Carolinas are holding their collective breath --

again.

Sunday afternoon, forecasters were warning North Carolina residents

of rainfall totals of three to five inches predicted to "produce

serious flooding" as a result of Hurricane Irene which left flood

damage across Southern Florida Friday and Saturday.

Flood warnings were posted for many of the same towns devastated by

last month's flooding following Hurricane Floyd. Irene is the third

hurricane to hit North Carolina this year with heavy rain. Thousands

of eastern North Carolina homes were damaged by flooding last month,

and the ground is still satuated.

The storm, with typical unpredictable behavior, hovered just off the

Carolina coast Sunday afternoon and despite some intensification, was

predicted to stay just off the coastline through Sunday night.

"It's just too early to tell," said Charlie Moeller, a Church World

Service disaster resource consultant who has been aiding in recovery

from Hurricane Floyd's destruction.

"Some rivers are still high, and now we're expecting a new river

crest. Everyone is trying to remain optimistic. But we're really

watching and waiting."

Many residents with homes along rivers in the Carolinas don't have

anything left to lose, since floodwaters from Hurricane Floyd wiped

out their homes and all their possessions. But hundreds of others

have just mucked out their homes, many with help from volunteer

teams, only to have floodwaters threaten again.

Others are living in temporary trailer housing that is vulnerable to

even tropical storm-force winds. Already, some residents have sought

refuge in schools, churches, and public buildings that have been

opened as shelters.

Gov. Jim Hunt has declared a state of emergency for eastern North

Carolina, and a flood watch was also posted for that region, which

forecasters said could receive up to six inches of rain. The National

Guard and emergency services personnel -- many still on active duty

since Floyd -- were on full alert.

Leaders from faith-based response groups, emergency management

departments, and the National Guard alike have been expressing

concerns about staff and resources being stretched because of the

"three strikes" of Dennis, Floyd, and now Irene.

Topsail Beach northeast of Wilmington was evacuated Sunday morning,

and nearby Onslow Beach was closed as well. A steady rain fell across

the southeast quarter of the state.

The American Red Cross reported Sunday that it expected to open more

than 30 shelters across North Carolina. In Brunswick County, south of

Wilmington, the local hospital -- partially damaged by Floyd -- was

closed as a percaution.

Meanwhile, in Miami, residents are mopping up -- but still grateful

it wasn't worse, and still grateful they escaped much of the

hurricane season's wrath so far.

Despite still-flooded city streets and widespread power outages, many

residents tried to keep some semblance of their Sunday morning

routine. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in downtown

Miami held its services in the gymnasium because the chapel was

flooded.

"We're also shortening our service so that people can go out into the

community and help each other clean out their homes," said First

Counselor to the Bishop Carlos Cruz. "Some people have been able to

clean up quickly but a lot of people haven't started yet. We plan to

help whatever neighbors we can."

The church's chapel was in a low-lying, carved-out area in the city

building. "Nice for the effect -- but not for the water," observed

Cruz.

The hurricane dumped heavy rain over the state and knocked out power

to more than a million people. In some areas, rainfall totaled 18

inches. Many streets in Miami remain flooded, and hundreds of

thousands remain without power.

In Vero Beach, the grounds of the Faith Baptist Church were flooded,

and the building had no electricity until early Sunday morning, but

services went on as usual after all. "God is good and the sun is

out," said church member Diane McCabe.

Scattered flooding was reported in a 200-mile area from Key West to

West Palm Beach. Water is still several inches deep on some Miami

streets.

In the Carolinas -- where people are twice bitten by hurricanes this

season -- Sunday morning didn't necessarily proceed as usual. At the

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which is situated in a

low-lying area of Charleston, S.C., services were canceled.

Church member William Black was locking up the church and telling

people to go home and stay inside. "That's all we've been hearing on

the news: stay inside," he said. "I'm just making sure everything's

locked up here."

Residents crowded grocery stores, purchasing bottled water and

last-minute supplies.

At 5 p.m., a hurricane warning was in effect from Edisto Beach to

Cape Hatteras including the Pamlico Sound, and a tropical storm

warning was issued for north of Cape Hatteras to the Virginia line.

In Savannah, residents rushed to fit in their Sunday morning services

before battening down the hatches. "Church is going on just as good

as if there was no hurricane," said Samantha Barnes, a member at the

First Bryan Baptist Church said as gospel music played.

On the fragile St. Helena Island in South Carolina, the Rev. J.L.

Simmons at the Nazereth Baptist Church marveled that his church and

community may very well escape the wrath of a storm -- again. "We get

a lot of threats here but, so far, not the impact," he said.

Meanwhile, the National Hurricane Center posted warnings Sunday night

for Tropical Depression 14, which is expected to reach hurricane

status early this week and could affect the Caribbean as early as

Wednesday.

Posted October 17, 1999


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