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Membership Notes, November/December 2018

Hurricane Recovery:
A Community Effort

By the time Hurricane Florence hit the North Carolina coastline in September, it had dropped from a Category 4 storm to a Category 2. All else being equal, it should have done what most other hurricanes do—wreak havoc as it blows through and then move on, leaving some downed trees and power lines, along with the normal flood zones under some water.

“That didn’t happen with Florence,” said Rossie Nance, VVA’s North Carolina State Council president. “She came into Wilmington, and Wilmington being such a beautiful coastal city—we never have snow or bad weather—Florence enjoyed being here. She decided to slow down to two miles per hour.”

And dump rain, and more rain, and yet more rain—up to thirty inches before finally moseying further inland and then up the Mid-Atlantic.

“We have weathered storms many times in the past,” Nance said. “Florence was expected to be bad, but we never expected the storm to move at two miles an hour. Flooding was exceptional. People who didn’t even live in flood zones experienced it. Areas that had never flooded were under water.”

With the storm surge—more devastating than the rain—the water reached as high as twenty-four feet above flood level in some places.

Even if a home didn’t flood, there was little mercy. Homes in the area, Nance said, were designed to withstand the blows of a Cat 2 hurricane. But not forever. With wind gusts up to 120 miles per hour, and rain driven sideways in a sustained pelting force for hours upon hours because of Florence’s slow pace, “it would be hard for any home to escape without water damage.”

Not many homes escaped, including those of many veterans. Coastal North Carolina is home to eighteen of the state’s twenty-three VVA chapters, and there’s a substantial population of veterans of other conflicts, Nance said. Many of them are retired, and many like living in the eastern part of the state because the weather—usually—is beautiful. That last fact, plus Florence’s unexpected stall, left a lot of veterans and civilians alike unprepared for the devastation.

“We had a lot of concerns for our Vietnam veterans and other veterans,” Nance said. “We knew we had to step forward.”

Nance and a core group of VVA members effectively formed a coordinating effort to find veterans whose homes were water-damaged and to offer help.

“One was a former nurse,” he said, “an 82-year-old Vietnam veteran who had roof damage, took in water, and had no hot food because of power outages. We tried every way to get food to her, but we were landlocked because all the roads were flooded. Finally, maybe the third or fourth day after the hurricane, authorities let us drive through eighteen inches of water to carry Red Cross people with hot food to her. When we got there, she was calm but happy to see us all.”

In addition to the Red Cross, Nance and the State Council worked with the Cajun Navy, which got right to work in areas still under water.

“We’d provide a veteran’s address and who is still in the house but needs to get out,” Nance said, “and they would go to that location and then call in air evacuation by Coast Guard.”

Another rescue involved a retired Vietnam veteran and his wife who are raising their four grandchildren. Their home was flooded and declared unfit for habitation. Only by sheer luck were they later able to find a rental house. Others weren’t so fortunate.

VVA chapters sent checks to help with the NCSC relief effort, Nance said. He used that money to provide grocery store food certificates. Support from VVA was matched by help from the entire North Carolina coastal region, Nance said. “It wasn’t just veterans. Civilians who had not spoken to one another in years—not that they were enemies—but they came together and again became best friends.”

They still are. Maybe 95 percent of homes and businesses have power back on, but some isolated rural parts are still in the dark. “There’s not enough skilled labor in this area to conquer what happened. So, it’s going to be a long healing process.”





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