In North Carolina, Some Communities Face New Post-Hurricane Florence Dangers

Sep 18, 2018
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It has been days since Hurricane Florence ravaged many parts of the Carolinas. The storm is blamed for more than 30 deaths, and hundreds of thousands of people are still without power. But while some communities are now able to focus on recovery, others are facing new dangers. Fayetteville, N.C., is on that list, and that is where we find NPR's Sarah McCammon, who joins me now. Sarah, where are you exactly, and what are you seeing?

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: So we are just off of a bridge just a little bit away from the Cape Fear River, which is the river here that runs through Fayetteville. It's a town of about 200,000 people. And just for days, residents here have been waiting for the river to rise. It was expected to crest this morning, and that has since been delayed. But I can tell you, Rachel, I just walked over to the bridge. Yesterday, our colleague and I were standing on the bridge talking to people, and there was a good bit of space between the bridges and the water. Now the water appears to touch the bridges. It's clearly risen a lot in the last 24 hours or so. And several people who were just, you know, watching and taking pictures - which I should say, by the way, is not advised by emergency officials - but I met a woman named Adrienne Murphy (ph). I don't think we have the tape of that right now. I'm filing from the scene here. But she told me that she has been evacuating and she'd been away for several days, had actually come back just to clear out some of her belongings and was going to stay with relatives. And that's the situation for a lot of people.

MARTIN: So do you have any sense how many people heeded the evacuation warnings? I mean, you're saying that you're still seeing people there watching the river, taking photos.

MCCAMMON: Right. And it's important to be clear. I mean, it's not, like, the whole city here is under evacuation, but it is - emergency officials have said anywhere from maybe 2,500 to 3,000 people live in the area a mile or two around the Cape Fear River that's under an evacuation order. And as of this morning, about a thousand people were in shelters in the area. Now, other people have gone to stay with relatives or friends who are on higher ground or hotels. Hotels have been pretty booked up around here. And there's another river just outside of town, called the Little River, which, the gauges on that river have broken. So officials aren't even sure if it has crested or not. But yesterday, we were out just outside of Fayetteville talking to people and seeing emergency responders in that area. Water was up, you know, almost to door knobs. We saw a flooded car. We talked to a couple people who were carrying belongings out of a home. So the water's been rising all around here for days now. And it's deceptive because I am looking right now at a beautiful, clear, blue, sunny sky. You would never know that flooding was still an issue here, except that these rivers are just soaked, the ground is soaked and the water just keeps coming downstream here into the Fayetteville area.

MARTIN: So what then happens? I hate to have you project to the worst-case scenario here, but if that river does crest, I mean, how are emergency managers even preparing for that?

MCCAMMON: Yeah. So the river, the one that we know has not yet crested, the Cape Fear River, which again, runs right through the city of Fayetteville, people tell me - just locals I've been talking to - they say they've never seen it this high, even during Hurricane Matthew two years ago, which did cause a lot of devastation, and people, I'm told, you know, have taken a long time to recover from in some parts of town. But according to predictions, this Cape Fear River is expected to crest at a higher level than even Matthew. And estimates I've heard, something like a thousand homes, buildings and other structures may be threatened again. And just not a big city - a couple hundred-thousand people live here. I talked to an emergency manager, Amy Cannon. She's the county manager for the county of Cumberland County. I think we have some tape from her.

AMY CANNON: That rain has to go somewhere. It flows from the basin upstream down into the Cape Fear River. So it's not just our rainfall that we need to be concerned with. It's all the other tributaries, and our own basin and the rain that's collected at a higher level.

MARTIN: All that water's got to go somewhere.

MCCAMMON: Right. And so that is, again, the fear. They're worried that people will start going back into their homes before it's safe. And it really isn't safe. The next 24 hours, at least, are going to be really telling in terms of how bad the impact is here.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Sarah McCammon reporting live from Fayetteville, N.C. Thanks, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: Yeah. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.