There’s something really disorienting about seeing your hometown in the news – especially when you grew up in the middle of nowhere.
And yet that’s what happened in the middle of September. I, like so many of us in North Carolina, had been keeping a close eye on Hurricane Florence. It was a beast of a storm; It was a powerful, slow-moving juggernaut, and it was aimed squarely at us. Even as Florence neared land, its cataclysmic winds subsiding and its path arcing toward the South Carolina line, I had my eye on the center of the North Carolina coast. Tucked between the Pamlico River to the north and the Neuse River to the south and east was Pamlico County, where I grew up. Because of the mechanics of the storm, that was where dangerous winds and an especially high storm surge had been forecast.
The County (as Pamlico is known back east) is low, flat and geographically isolated. Only a handful of roads, most of them two-lanes, lead out. My mom had evacuated, but her husband had not. And I knew that many, many people I grew up with would be riding out the storm.
The people of Eastern North Carolina either fled or hunkered down as Florence crawled across the state. Wind, storm surges and rain brought the first punch, and New Bern – the town of 29,000 that Pamlico County folk consider the closest “city,” and where many people I know live – ended up underwater. Cresting rivers days after the storm brought the second punch. The Lumber River rose, as did the Cape Fear, flooding houses and washing out roads. Recovery in these places, many of which still have not bounced back from Hurricane Matthew in 2016, is expected to take years.
And then, just before this issue’s deadline, Hurricane Michael struck the Florida panhandle with uncommon viciousness before blazing across North Carolina. One storm was more than enough, thanks.
With all of that considered, I had no interest in running the editor’s letter I had originally written for this issue, which was about me being a college dropout who initiated his own “second act” by going back to school at NC State and becoming a professional writer. I think a more critical second act is Eastern North Carolina’s. The region has a lot to bounce back from, and it can’t do so without help.
If you have it in your power to help New Bern, Pamlico County, Wilmington, Lumberton or any area Florence or Michael hit, please do so. The Red Cross is one option, while the North Carolina Disaster Relief fund at governor.nc.gov/donate-florence-recovery is another. If you would rather donate directly to a particular impacted area, contact local governments or faith communities to find out how to help.
Thanks for picking up OutreachNC, and I’ll see you in December.