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|Hurricane Florence: Life in the Bullseye|
by Joe Mobley,SFM2
Cape Verde was the first foreign port of call for the USS Rich on its 1969 Red Sea cruise. It was also the point of origin for Hurricane Florence, the first major hurricane of 2018.
As morning coffee was brewing in many homes, Florence was beginning to brew into a behemoth. The small waterfront community of Swansboro, North Carolina, my hometown, was in its crosshairs.
Swansboro is a picturesque town, worthy of a Norman Rockwell painting of small town America. It sits on the Intracoastal Waterway only three miles from the Atlantic Ocean. Nearby rivers and streams provide abundant fishing and all types of water sports. Anything from kayaking to deep sea charter fishing is available. Annual festivals and events temporarily swell the town’s population fivefold.
Two nearby Marine Corps bases, very little snow and a much milder winter attract transplants from most every state in the union. Native North Carolina folks are a bit of a rarity, those native to Swansboro are rarer. Which sometimes poses a dilemma at hurricane time.
Many area residents have never experienced the harsh wrath of one of Mother Nature’s hurricanes. Especially as it comes off the ocean and storms ashore like WWII troops stormed Normandy. The uninitiated quickly get initiated. Key to survival is preparedness.
In a hurricane, folks just have to endure Mother Nature’s wrath, hoping the roof stays on and flood waters don’t rise higher than their first floor.
Some residents leave the area or seek refuge in safety shelters. Some hard core residents, such as myself, just ain’t going to leave during a hurricane, come Hell or high water. With Florence, both came in abundance.
I simply describe the sounds of a hurricane as this: “The howling winds and torrential rain sound like a hundred-mile long freight train constantly clattering just above your head.”
To the uninitiated in hurricanes, comparing a tropical storm to Florence is like comparing a groundswell to a tsunami. Unless you have been in the midst of a hurricane, all the pictures, stories and videos cannot explain one.
The first point of attack was the shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean at nearby Emerald Isle. Scant weeks before, the miles of sandy beach had been packed with throngs of sunburned, lobster red tourists. Florence attacked the shoreline like a vengeful, treacherous serpent. Its path crawled forward, wreaking damage and destruction.
Electricity, cable television, the internet and for many, even water was unavailable for several days.
Fifty year old trees had tops and branches snapped off like wooden matchsticks broken between one’s fingers. Her winds tore through Swansboro at speeds faster than most people will ever ride in a car.
After the rain and wind abated, poking their heads outside, the uninitiated got a jolt of reality. To them, it may have looked like Hiroshima, Version Two. To longtime residents it was nothing new.
Trees and limbs were blown down across roads and buildings, making some streets and roads impassable. Some dwellings had only a few shingles and soffit damaged, on others the entire roof was blown off. At least two, decades-old houses in downtown had survived several hurricanes. This time their tin roofs had been peeled off like the lid on flat cans of freshly opened sardines.
Swansboro first responders manned the Emergency Operations Center around the clock. Power companies from multiple states dispatched trucks and crews to begin immediate electrical repairs. Tree cutters, roofers and most every trade imaginable began pouring into town almost as soon as the rain stopped pouring. The flood of repair and service personnel was amazing because many roads, almost impassable, were flooded by swollen rivers and streams.
Volunteers from every source imaginable wrung themselves out, rolled up their wet sleeves and got to work. Neighbors helping neighbors, complete strangers helping strangers. The list of volunteers was endless. Churches, civic groups, business owners and many others went into immediate action. People delivered free meals and water. Hotdogs and cold garden peas never tasted so good to the hungry. One business set up a food stand at Town Hall and served almost gourmet meals of hot dogs, hamburgers, French fries and crabmeat nuggets. With a choice of water or a variety of sodas, all for free.
Pick up points were set up for donated clothing, cleaning supplies and other badly needed items. Volunteers checked on the sick, the infirmed, the elderly and anyone known to need assistance.
Debris removal began. Men and women fired up chain saws, swung axes, raked, shoveled and dragged tree limbs to the curbside. The debris, including damaged furniture and just all kinds of stuff. So heavily clogged were the roadsides it began looking like a New York City garbage workers strike.
Only one gas station, operating on generator power, opened for business. The line of cars was so long it was reminiscent of the 1973 oil embargo. The line snaked across a parallel street, through the nearby McDonalds parking lot and drive-thru lane, out the entrance road and onto the main highway. Three police officers, half the town’s police force, had the patrol car’s blue lights flashing and maintained an orderly process.
When the first supermarket reopened for business, a greeter told customers at the entrance door it would be a one hour wait from the time they got in one of many checkout lines until paying the cashier. That didn’t include shopping time. Despite the enormous crowds, beleaguered store employees and hurricane weary folks, everyone was courteous, considerate and helpful to each other.
Life is starting to get a bit more normal now. Stores are opening with shorter lines. Home repairs of all types have begun. Everyone has electricity and water, some still lack cable. Insurance adjusters and FEMA reps are all over town, somewhat akin to a horde of navy sailors going on liberty after a long deployment at sea.
Other parts of North Carolina were equally damaged. Some lives, further inland, were lost due to flooding and fallen trees. Much livestock was drowned. I have confined this report to just my hometown of Swansboro, population 3,000.
Fight one more round. That was the philosophy of a weary boxer
struggling to go back into the ring for the next round. He knew as long
as he fought one more round, he was never beat. We’re already back into
the ring, we’re Swansboro Strong.
Joe Mobley,(SFM2) served aboard the USS Rich, his second Navy ship, from 1968-70. He is a resident of Swansboro.
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