Guest Editorial: A year later, Hurricane Matthew offers reminders

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Hurricane Matthew had been threatening for days before it began its final skirt of our coast on Oct. 8, 2016. That day began well enough. Bands from the storm punctuated sunlight before blotting it completely as the day wore on. Heavy rain and wind then began their assault and, as night fell, their intensity grew and the storm turned deadly.

The first wave of destruction in the Greenville area brought flash flooding and stranded scores of motorists who failed to heed warnings to stay off the roads that Saturday night. Swift water crews had to rescue the unlucky and careless alike in low spots throughout town. At Charles and 14th Street, three people climbed 15 feet into a tree to escape rising waters. A team was able to help them to safety.

About 1:30 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 9, rescuers rushed to Mozingo Road. Judy Wainright Harrell, 68, an employee of The Daily Reflector, had left her home in an attempt to reach higher ground, but waters engulfed her vehicle. She became one of 26 people killed by the storm. Authorities said a Pactolus-area man would die as a result of the storm two day later as he was trying to clean up debris.

By Sunday morning the storm’s damage was clear. It had toppled hundreds of trees and washed out roads in the county and in the towns. Unfortunately, as the first wave ended, the second wave began. Like a dreadful deja vu from 1999, the Tar River was quickly rising, just as it had after Hurricane Floyd. Authorities had issued warnings days before, now they were ordering evacuations.

In Greenville alone, officials estimate that more than 10,000 residents were barred from their homes in areas close to the river. Some would be able to return Friday, Oct. 14, when the river crested at 24.5 feet — it reached nearly 30 feet in 1999 — but many had to wait longer and some would find their homes damaged or beyond repair.

Nearly 4,000 buildings in Pitt County were affected and damage was estimated at more than $27 million, officials reported. The Federal Emergency Management Agency received nearly 2,500 claims here and approved more than $1.4 million in assistance. About 12 homes were approved for buyouts. Several area counties, including Edgecombe, Lenoir and Wayne, fared worse than Pitt.

Local planners made great strides after Floyd to mitigate damage from future storms. Damage from Matthew otherwise would have been much worse. However, its one-year anniversary, as well as the damage caused by recent storms in Florida and Texas, should remind us the process must be ongoing.

The city of Greenville next week is expected to award a contract for major upgrades to its downtown stormwater drainage system and hopefully will embark soon on citywide improvements to its drainage infrastructure. That, along with a close eye on development, will be steps in the right direction.