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Catastrophic flooding hits NC

BY GEORGE PIPER | NORTH CAROLINA | September 17, 1999

NORTH CAROLINA (Sept. 17, 1999) -- "Catastrophic" is how response workers and residents alike are describing the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd. With helicopter fly-overs rescuing terrified residents from rooftops, whole towns submerged, and the entire expanse east of Interstate 95 flooded, North Carolina can't yet get its head above water.

The waters are receding so slowly it's hard to tell if they are at all. Thousands who evacuated can't return because the roads leading home have washed away.

And the rivers haven't even crested yet. That's bad news for towns like Wilson and Rocky Mount, where estimates put 30 to 50 percent of the town below water.

"We have no idea at all how many homes are under water," said Charlie Moeller, a Church World Service disaster resource facilitator. "It's just a massive number."

A meeting of North Carolina's Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) is tentatively scheduled for Monday, with interfaith interests gathering afterward to begin planning a response. Until then, Moeller is gathering incident reports from the state and noted that denominations are putting out appeals for funds.

Moeller isn't only inundated with water -- he's also flooded with people calling to lend a hand in relief efforts. While their spirit is admirable, he said, they must realize the need for manpower is not immediate in this case. "What they don't realize is that: one, the water hasn't gone down; and two, the organization isn't in place to coordinate

those efforts."

The storm also was harsh to the state's farmers. For example, in Duplin County, although farmers already harvested two-thirds of the county's tobacco and corn crops, what's left in the fields is 80 to 90 percent lost. Add those losses half of the entire planting of 74,000 acres of soybeans and all of 23,500 acres of cotton, and Duplin County farmers are in for tough times, said Ed Emory, the county's agricultural cooperative extension agent. Similar losses can be expected in other counties.

"If there is anything left in the ground, there's no way to get to it," he said, noting the high standing water throughout the county from 19.5 inches of rain. Livestock hogs and turkeys reportedly drowned, Emory added, and feed trucks can't get around to make deliveries to surviving animals.

Floyd's agricultural legacy is historic erosion and flooding that could take the county's 755 farmers months or years to recover, said Emory. About half of the losses will be covered by insurance, but you can't put a price tag on soil erosion, he added. It's too early to tell whether winter crops will get planted.

North Carolina's agricultural community already is reeling from some $43 million in losses from Hurricane Dennis. While Duplin County escaped major damage in that storm, farmers are not so lucky this time.

"This, added on to already depressed markets and with cuts in the tobacco quota programs, is just a devastating loss," he said.

Some North Carolina residents are simply grateful for escaping with their lives. In a state that has seen hurricanes Fran and Bonnie tear up communities the past two years, Floyd's potential power was still stunning. "Everybody's awfully grateful the storm did not come in with the intensity and size that was anticipated," said the Rev. Roger Paxton. "We felt that's Providence at work and a lot of prayers were answered in regards to that."

But there is a long road ahead, said Paxton, vice chair of disaster preparedness for the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.

In Kenansville, where Paxton oversees four UMC parishes, Floyd's torrential rains caused the nearby Goshen Swamp to overflow. "We've had homes that never had water in their yards collect three to four feet of water in the

home," he said.

While North Carolina has been a bulls-eye in recent years, Paxton noted that old timers still mark a hurricane's impact with Hazel in 1954. With the amount of recovery uncertain until water recedes, he won't say yet if Floyd becomes the new marker. But he and thousands of others are using the same description: catastrophic.

Posted Sept. 17, 1999


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