As waters receded and rescue missions waned, somber views from the air and on the ground revealed the devastation of Hurricane Florence and the long recovery ahead in Sampson County.
The Sacramento Swift Water Task Force and Oakland (Calif.) Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 4 Bravo Team worked with local first responders to evacuate residents from communities in southern Sampson, notably Ivanhoe and Ingold communities, before departing Wednesday.
Bravo Team coordinated rescues with the Harrells Volunteer Fire Department, U.S. Coast Guard, National Guard and others before demobilizing in Sampson and redeploying elsewhere Wednesday. The two outgoing teams were replaced by two more — Maryland Task Force 2 Swift Water Team and the Asheville Fire Department Swift Water Rescue Team.
On Wednesday, the number of specialized rescue missions in Sampson still stood firmly at 72, where they were Tuesday evening. County public information officer Susan Holder said rescue had turned to reconnaissance.
“We’re beginning to see the waters recede, which is good,” said Holder, noting Taylors Bridge Fire Department, heavily involved in the effort, saw waters recede 10 feet. Clear Run and Garland were among the communities also seeing water levels ebb while Ivanhoe residents and those in neighboring communities were hoping for an end to the nightmare.
Houses were submerged, with just a roof here and there peeking above the water’s surface. The Ivanhoe Post Office was underwater, as were two neighboring historic churches — Black River Presbyterian, founded in 1740, and Ivanhoe Baptist Church, dating back to 1893.
On Tuesday, some county officials were able to get a look from above at the devastation, including Sampson Board of Commissioners chairman Clark Wooten, Vice-chairwoman Sue Lee, County manager Ed Causey and Holder in separate trips.
Lee, who rode with Holder over the hardest hit areas, said she was gutted at what she saw. She looked on from the helicopter as it hovered over Ivanhoe, Ingold, Garland, as well as the Mossy Log and Mossy Oak communities.
“It was just utter devastation,” said Lee. “It was just horrific to watch.”
“Seeing that old historic church in Ivanhoe underwater was particularly devastating,” Holder added.
They saw roads covered, houses that were barely there and just large bodies of water that weren’t supposed to be there, the type of immense once-in-a-lifetime flooding everyone had anticipated and dreaded.
“Ivanhoe was the worst one I saw; it was just unreal,” Lee remarked. “The water had just blasted through these communities. To see the roads disappear for long stretches, you could not even tell they were even there.”
The commissioner said she couldn’t imagine if Florence had remained the Category 4 it was just off the coast. She said she’s not sure people would have survived such an event.
Along with the Coast Guard and National Guard helicopter teams, local fire departments and other first responders continued Wednesday working with two ambulance strike teams deployed by the State EOC, as well as the NC National Guard, FBI and American Red Cross. An EOC (Emergency Operations Center) Overhead Support Team from Santa Clara, Calif., was also still in Sampson.
While 72 rescue missions have been conducted on the ground and through the air since last week, an untold number of people have been assisted. Holder said that number may not be known for some time, as swift water teams were picking up as many people as they could before going out and doing it over again.
The county’s EOC will be scaled back later this week, as county offices open back up to the public, but it will remain active. Holder said rescues, while diminishing, were still very much ongoing.
“They are doing reconnaissance,” Holder said Wednesday of swift water rescue teams and others. “They’re down there right now.”
An emergency shelter was in operating for those in the Garland and Harrells vicinity who were being evacuated due to rising flood waters. Only for flood water evacuees, it held 47 people as of Wednesday afternoon.
Six Runs Plantation Bed and Breakfast owner Becky Todd called the flooding “historic.” The plantation is located approximately 15 miles south of Clinton, off of N.C. 421 South.
“For 40 years we’ve lived here and it’s never looked like this,” said Todd. “There’s flooding over the road.”
She said a utility crew out of Virginia would be staying on site and making repairs for “several weeks,” but she was thankful it wasn’t worse. She said the flooding was not from Six Runs, part of the Cape Fear basin, but from the nonstop rains — some places were said to have received in excess of two feet.
Down in Garland, Andy Runion was counting his blessings too. He had been marking the flooding since Florence began. Waters crested on Tuesday afternoon. He was fortunate his home was saved, but said it was still a difficult situation.
“It’s rough,” he stated. “We’re just so far away from everything. We finally got power back; a lot of roof damage and water damage, but we are still here and family is good.”
Curfews in the City of Clinton and Sampson County were relaxed to 10 p.m. by mid-week, as government offices began to open back up on Wednesday and Thursday. City schools were observing a teacher workday on Thursday, as county schools were still closed until further notice. Harrells Christian Academy was out until Monday.
In addition to the shelter solely for evacuees from the southern end of the county, two shelters were still open with a total population of 106 as of 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, one at Sampson Middle School, the other a Special Needs Shelter at the Adult Day Care on Fisher Drive in Clinton.
Lee said she was impressed at the disaster response by county personnel, from the running of the EOC to the people manning the shelter. She went to all nine of the shelters last Thursday, just before Florence hit.
“I could not believe how well everything was running,” she said. “To not be doing this every day, and be getting this up so quick, it was so amazing to see. Everyone we thanked turned it around and said it was their duty and honor to help. The county employees and volunteers, just everyone, really stepped up to the plate.”
Managing Editor Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 2587.