Florence hits hard, Beaufort County stands strong

Published 8:03 pm Saturday, September 15, 2018

BEAUFORT COUNTY — It started with a breeze and a drizzle on Thursday morning, and as the day progressed,Florence hits hard, Beaufort County stands strong Beaufort County was facing record storm surge brought on by the advance of a then-category two hurricane named Florence.

By Friday morning, the Pamlico and Pungo Rivers had swollen well beyond their banks, setting record highs at monitoring stations in Washington and Belhaven. Throughout the county, homes and businesses were quickly engulfed by the rising tides, and while property and possessions may have taken a beating in the high waters, none of the seven deaths reported in the wake of the storm by Saturday were from Beaufort County.


Well before the storm made landfall, Beaufort County Emergency Services was already reviewing contingencies and making preparations for the storm. While conversations on the storm began late last week and continued through the weekend, Emergency Services officially established an Emergency Operations Center.

EMERGENCY OPS: County Manager Brian Alligood, Chocowinity EMS Director Shane Grier and Emergency Services Director Carnie Hedgepeth monitor storm response from the Emergency Operations Center. (Ashley Vansant/Daily News)

“Our key positions were in place Monday,” Beaufort County operations chief Chris Newkirk said. “We started planning through the event and contingencies for things we were expecting based on the forecast at that time.”

From Monday through the duration of the event, the EOC served as the nerve center for disaster response throughout the county, coordinating response between local agencies and additional resources brought in from out of state, including special search and rescue task forces from Arizona and New Jersey.


Throughout the storm, two emergency shelters were opened in Beaufort County, with a third being opened inland at the National Guard Armory in Louisburg. According to Emergency Services a total of 770 people took shelter in these locations at the height of the storm.

The first opened at Washington High School at noon on Wednesday, with more than 20 people lining up to get a space. By Wednesday afternoon, evacuees from Belhaven, Aurora, Blount’s Creek and Chocowinity had been transported to the WHS shelter via school buses and drivers provided by Beaufort County Schools.

NOT WORTH THE RISK: For Fred and Cathy Belanger, fears over their home being able to withstand hurricane-force winds drove their decision to seek shelter. (Matt Debnam/Daily News)

As conditions worsened, a second shelter was opened at P.S. Jones Middle School on Thursday. By Friday morning, 450 people were sheltered at Washington High School and 200 were housed at P.S. Jones. These numbers were increased by a number of people rescued by first responders from flooded homes.

As of Saturday afternoon, those numbers had dropped to 290 people, with the P.S. Jones shelter closing and evacuees being relocated to WHS.


Within the City of Washington alone, more than 260 people were rescued from the rising floodwaters during the storm. In Belhaven, rising tides necessitated rescues throughout the day Thursday and Friday. On both the north and south sides of the river, Newkirk says that high-water rescue vehicles operated by the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office ran essentially non-stop during the storm, ferrying evacuees to shelters. On Friday, Chocowinity Fire and EMS personnel performed water rescues for people trapped in residences on Whichards Beach and Sand Hill roads, both hard-hit areas on the south side of the river.

READY TO GO: Rescue boats stand staged and at the ready at the corner of 5th and Market streets in Washington. (Matt Debnam/Daily News)


According to figures released by Beaufort County Emergency services, a total of 12,000 Beaufort County electric customers lost power at the height of the storm. While teams from inland and out of state aided local crews, weather conditions made restoration efforts challenging throughout Thursday night and Friday.

As of 5 p.m. on Friday, 77 percent of Tideland EMC customers were without power, with 8,379 outages reported in Beaufort County. Duke Energy Progress customers faced widespread outages in southern Beaufort County, with large outages impacting customers in the vicinity of Aurora. Crews with the City of Washington continued to respond diligently throughout the event, restoring most of the city’s power by Saturday morning.

As of 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, 3,557 Tideland customers and 2,477 Duke Energy Progress customers were without power in Beaufort County.


As the county enters recovery mode, Newkirk says there are a number of lessons that can be learned from the storm. With the number of people involved in such a response as occurred this week, Newkirk said that clear communication is an area his office will reflect upon in the storm’s aftermath.

“We always like to identify areas where we can improve communication,” Newkirk said. “That’s where a lot of our after-action response starts. How do we improve communication, which in turn improves actions and all the other things that are driven by it … We’re proud of the partnerships that come together that make this possible. The response that you’re seeing is not because of us. We’re probably the smallest piece in that puzzle. There are a lot of strong partnerships and good talent in this county and it just shows in times like this.”