State aid forthcoming

Published 10:19 am Tuesday, September 27, 2016

WINDSOR – Standing in the heart of downtown Windsor, surrounded by debris piled on the streets from flooded businesses, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory promised state assistance to the county and the town during his visit Monday afternoon.

Earlier Monday afternoon, the Governor toured the Longbranch section of Colerain where floodwaters remain on the heels of last week’s 18 inches of rain there. He chatted with residents of that Colerain neighborhood, who shared their stories of being forced to dig deep in their own pockets to make needed repairs. A few of the residents showed the Governor cell phone photos they snapped of the flooding.

While visiting the Longbranch neighborhood in Colerain on Monday, Gov. McCrory views photos of the flooding there on the cell phone of Rose Wilson (left).

While visiting the Longbranch neighborhood in Colerain on Monday, Gov. McCrory views photos of the flooding there on the cell phone of Rose Wilson (left).

McCrory also made a stop at Bertie County Peanuts (Powell & Stokes) in Windsor to visit with local farmers and learned of the dire situation they are in at harvest time.

But the heartbreak came as he walked down South King Street in Windsor. There, business owners and hired hands could be seen gutting the inside of those buildings, tearing away rain-soaked walls, molding and insulation as well as hauling out damaged furniture and appliances.  Piles of debris were nearly head-high in some spots….eerily reminiscent of the height of the water spilling over from the banks of the nearby Cashie River after three consecutive days of heavy rain last week.

While inside at Hammerheads Oyster Bar where the smell of industrial strength cleaners mixed with the musky scent of rainwater, McCrory listened as long-time employee Heather Lawicki explained to the Governor that this flood may serve as the death knell for the popular downtown restaurant.

“This is number three,” said Lawicki, referencing floods from Hurricane Floyd in 1999, a five-day rain event in 2010 and now last week’s weather that was a leftover from Tropical Storm Julia. “This may be it for us.”

Back out on the street, McCrory visited several other businesses before holding a press conference under the stoplight at the intersection of King Street and Granville Street.

“Our hearts and prayers are with ya’ll in Bertie County and the town of Windsor,” McCrory said. “The majority of the nation and the world didn’t know that a major flood occurred here last week as all the attention was focused on 300 protesters in Charlotte (where an officer-involved shooting ended in death). The fact of the matter is that a real disaster was taking place right here that affected thousands.”

The Governor pledged that the state would step in and help.

“We need to bring some focus to those affected here,” McCrory said. “Through (State Agriculture) Commissioner Steve Troxler, we will help the farmers. The peanut farmers here have a difficult decision to make about their crop….leave them in the ground or dig them up. They’re caught in a tight place, and now there’s even more rain coming in on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.”

Gov. McCrory chats with Heather Lawicki, an employee of Hammerheads Oyster Bar, a business on Windsor’s King Street that was heavily damaged by the flooding. At left is local District 5 State House Representative Howard Hunter III.

Gov. McCrory chats with Heather Lawicki, an employee of Hammerheads Oyster Bar, a business on Windsor’s King Street that was heavily damaged by the flooding. At left is local District 5 State House Representative Howard Hunter III.

He praised Bertie County’s first responders – to include the Bertie Sheriff’s Office, Windsor Police Department, local EMS, the fire departments and Emergency Management.

“Fortunately, there were no injuries, there was no loss of life and that’s due to the people on the ground here, the emergency responders,” McCrory said. “They all worked together, to include swift water rescue teams deployed here from Greensboro, Fayetteville and New Bern. One hundred and thirty eight people were rescued.”

In Colerain, McCrory promised immediate relief, starting today (Tuesday) with an effort to clean debris from drainage ditches and deal with the problem of beaver dams in a swamp adjacent to the Longbranch neighborhood.

“We have to get the water flowing and keep it flowing. Had it not been for the town leaders in Colerain having a storm water retention pond installed a few years ago, the flooding in that town would have been much, much worse,” the Governor observed.

McCrory also stressed the need to have the water tested locally to check for any environmental concerns stemming from the flood.

“There has been some dirty water to pass through Bertie County and the streets of Windsor. We need to make sure that’s cleaned up,” he noted.

“People here are suffering; it’s time to wake up the nation and let them know of what’s going on here….a natural disaster….and we need to do all we can to help these people,” McCrory remarked.

Windsor Mayor Jimmy Hoggard said he was thankful for the Governor and other state officials coming to his town and offering their support.

“We are entering our recovery phase and rebuilding downtown Windsor,” Hoggard said. “We ask for your prayers and your support.”

John Trent, Chairman of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners, stressed that this latest flood was the third in a series of weather events over a 17-year span.

“People of Bertie County are resilient; they are fighters; we will be back,” Trent promised.

He also praised emergency responders, noting that members of the Colerain Fire Department rescued individuals from the floodwaters in the Longbranch neighborhood in the wee hours of last Wednesday morning.

“And here in Windsor, swift water rescue teams accounted for 138 lives saved,” Trent added.

Trent reminded Bertie residents and business owners that suffered flood damage to make an application for state assistance beginning today (Tuesday) at the county’s Department of Social Services office in Windsor.

“We will get you processed as quickly as possible,” Trent stressed.

Bertie Sheriff John Holley said he was proud to be a county native because at times such as this, “we all pull together.”

“I agree with Chairman Trent, we are fighters,” Holley said. “We come together when times are bad.”

Commissioner Troxler said being a farmer himself, it is “gut wrenching to come to an area like this heavily damaged by floods.

“These folks work hard to make a living, and now some of that living is gone,” Troxler noted. “We’re real concerned about the sage crop; it has a hard deadline on planting and what was planted has either been washed away or has drowned.

“For peanuts…in the ground there’s going to be problems and if you dig ‘em and then there’s more wet weather coming, then that’s another problem,” the Ag Commissioner continued. “The extent of the damage caused here to the agricultural economy is still yet to be seen; it just depends on the weather to come.”

Also joining the Governor and other state officials in both Colerain and Windsor was local State House Representative Howard Hunter III of Ahoskie.

“This is devastating to see,” Hunter stressed. “It’s also something you cannot prepare for when water rises this quickly. I’m so glad that our leadership from Raleigh is here. They have promised to help and that work begins on Tuesday.”

“We’re going to get the resources needed here,” McCrory stated. “We have emergency funds that can help.

“People here in Bertie County and in Windsor are still in shock; people are hurting here. Some have lost everything they have; some businesses may not reopen.

“Windsor represents all that’s good about America; hard working people, but they’ve been dealt another blow with water rising three, four, five feet. I believe this town, this county will come back. We will do everything we can to help you and make that happen,” McCrory concluded.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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