Emergency workers answered many calls for help|Several agencies joinedin various relief efforts

Published 6:03 pm Wednesday, September 16, 2009

By By GREG KATSKI Community Editor
George Sullivan can remember where he was when the first “flooding” call regarding Hurricane Floyd was received.
The former Area 2 coordinator for the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management was sleeping heavily on a thin cot in the basement of the Beaufort County Courthouse, which was the county’s emergency operations center when Hurricane Floyd hit.
Sullivan had reclined about 9 p.m. Sept. 18, 1999, exhausted after two days spent coordinating rescue efforts during the height of the hurricane.
“I went to sleep on a cot because I didn’t get any sleep the night before,” Sullivan said. “Some 45 minutes after I laid down, one of the guys said people needed to be rescued.”
Sullivan, groggy and suffering from sleep deprivation, told the volunteer who awakened him to tell the distressed callers that Washington High School was open as a shelter.
“He said, ‘No sir, there’s water in the cars,’” Sullivan recalled.
At that moment, Sullivan said, he realized the worst was yet to come.
The calls continued to come in from small communities, especially trailer parks, west of Washington.
Sullivan, as well as deputies with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, local forest rangers with the Division of Forest Services and firefighters/EMTs with area fire departments, responded to the flooded areas of Tranter’s Creek and Clark’s Neck Road.
When the emergency workers could go drive no farther because of flash flooding, they took to rescue boats provided by the forest service.
“We were going over the tops of the trailers with our boats,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said the forest service had trouble getting one particular boat across the strong, steady current of Tranter’s Creek during the flooding. The boat, a 16-foot, flat-bottom model with a 25-horsepower outboard motor, started moving backwards once it reached the middle of the creek.
“We had to put another boat in there to tow it out,” Sullivan said.
The rescue efforts continued for three days as the floodwaters continued to rise along the Tar River before eventually dissipating.
At its worse, Sullivan said, floodwaters crested 10 feet above the existing bridge over Tranter’s Creek at U.S. Highway 264. Within a day of the initial flooding, the National Guard and Coast Guard had joined the rescue efforts along the Beaufort County/Pitt County line.
The Coast Guard was airlifting people by helicopter, while the National Guard was using heavy-duty trucks to evacuate people from their flooded homes.
Emergency-response agencies set up a command center next to the Food Lion on U.S. Highway 264 on Washington’s west side, where volunteers obtained information from those rescued.
The Beaufort County chapter of the American Red Cross helped relief efforts by setting up a distribution center in the former Wal-Mart building at Pamlico Plaza in Washington. Wal-Mart had vacated the building when it moved to its new location about 120 yards away.
Those forced to evacuate their homes picked up basic necessities from the center, including antibiotics, clothes, food and water. Many had nothing but the clothes on their backs when they got there, Kay Johnson, director of the local Red Cross chapter at the time, recalled.
“Some people lost everything,” she said.
Johnson said the influx of displaced people at the center was overwhelming.
Richard Sloan, former production supervisor at the Salvation Army’s Thrift Store in Washington, said his store saw plenty of flood victims, too.
“It was a rough time,” he said. “I had never seen anything like Floyd.”
Sloan also was in charge of the Salvation Army’s mobile canteen during the rescue efforts. He prepared hot meals for displaced people in the trailer, which was hitched to the back of a work van.
“I was out there I can’t remember how long,” Sloan said.
He said at times it was dangerous to deploy the canteen in the aftermath of Floyd, but the Salvation Army was determined to feed those in need.
While local, state and national disaster-response agencies were trying to rescue people along Tranter’s Creek, local law-enforcement officials were dealing with a different, but equally dangerous problem throughout Washington — looting.
With help from the National Guard and Highway Patrol troopers, deputies with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office tried to quash the looting, Sheriff Alan Jordan said.
“A lot of people were just curious, but we did have people looking for the opportunity to commit crimes,” Jordan said.
The law-enforcement officials had to determine who was out trying to get necessities for their families and who was out to cause trouble, Jordan said.
He said that despite some incidents of looting, most people encountered by officials were looking for ways to help with relief efforts. Many brought food, water and clothes to emergency workers stationed at the command center set up next to the Food Lion.
“The main thing in Beaufort County is that in times like that, we have an overwhelming response, an overwhelming desire to help,” Jordan said.