Local News

Angry Edenton Residents Cope With Damage, Wait For Help

Posted September 21, 2003

— Floodwater from Hurricane Isabel receded rapidly in this Colonial-era town on a picturesque bay. But emotions running high during the wait for help will take longer to fade.

"The county feels a little left out because they haven't heard from the National Guard," said Chowan County Manager Cliff Copeland, whose office is in the town.

Federal Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge addressed the concerns of Edenton and the other hard-hit towns at a news conference Saturday in Elizabeth City.

"They're all number one," Ridge said. "We just can't get there all at the same time.

"Any elected official in any community in the path of the hurricane wants their community to be number one on the list," Ridge said. "If they didn't feel that way about their community, they shouldn't represent them."

Ridge said it will take time to set up disaster field offices.

"We're going to set these up quicker probably than we've ever set them up before," Ridge said. "There is a little time lapse, 24 to 48 hours, before they'll see more than a couple of faces from the federal government, but it's on its way."

Edenton was among the worst-hit inland locations. Downed trees and power lines litter residential streets of the long-ago state capital, forcing vehicles to weave through the tangles. Water from the bay and creeks was driven into town by high winds, flooding some homes and pushing a few sailboats off their moorings onto land.

About three-quarters of the town's businesses are closed, a situation repeated across the northeastern slice of the state where power is out in scores of small towns and crossroad communities.

Copeland said a meeting was being planned with private business owners later in the week to determine who will be able to open.

Chain saws were buzzing and generators were humming Saturday as construction crews worked to dry out the floors of waterfront houses. Power crews were at work. Neighbors surveyed damage at each other's homes. One resident put boxes of doughnuts on a table in the front yard.

Many of city streets, narrowed to a single lane because of debris, are lined with downed power lines.

Charles Jones, emergency management director across the Chowan River in Hertford County, said the wait for relief supplies was frustrating, although the county had seen some help.

Three generators to run water systems and help in the form of out-of-town emergency management coordinators and law enforcement have arrived, Jones said. In addition, chain saw operators from the state Forest Service arrived to clear trees off of roads.

"We requested much more: ice, water, tarps," Jones said. "It hasn't gotten here yet. You get frustrated when you can't get items to people that they need. They want things they can put their hands on. We're relying on outside resources and the state's relying on outside resources.

"You want to say, here's your bag of ice and here's the tarp to cover your roof."

Problems persisted in Bertie County, as well, where downed trees still blocked many roads and forestry crews arrived to saw through the tangles. Most of the county till had no power, but one generator had arrived to pump water from wells into county storage tanks, said County Manager Zee Lamb.

"There's no power, and Dominion's saying it could take up to 30 days for the northeast part of the county to get it back," Lamb said. "That's where the worst damage was done."

Not everyone was frustrated by the pace of federal recovery efforts.

"I'm sure we could use the federal government's help, but look around: We're working hard, said Sam Dixon, 42, an Edenton lawyer who lives a block from the waterfront in a house built in 1810. "We're just lucky to be here. Everybody takes care of everybody. It's just a small town."

Despite the grumbling from some the community leaders, Gov. Mike Easley said he was impressed with the federal government's response.

"This is the first time in my career that a federal agency has called me before I called them," Gov. Mike Easley said at the news conference with Ridge.

Although it seemed an achingly long process for those still waiting for power, the numbers of homes without electricity was dropping steadily. By 11 p.m. Saturday, the number of reported outages was 117,261, down from more than 700,000 just after the storm.

Easley said 14 shelters housed 350 people Friday night.

At least three people were killed in North Carolina, including a utility worker in Carteret County and two motorists in Franklin and Chowan counties.

"We're focused still on recovery, water, shelter, food, medical supplies and power," Easley said. "We have planes in the air doing the reconnaissance to survey damage and to search and rescue."

Ridge says that all federal permitting required for rebuilding N.C. 12 on Hatteras Island has been expedited, and work will begin soon. The remnants of the broken roadbed can be seen under the waves crashing along the new inlet, which left people trapped in the village of Hatteras at the island's southern end.

North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland have been declared federal disaster areas, and Delaware officials will likely ask President Bush for a similar designation next week.

The National Guard attempted to fly two mobile soup kitchens to Hatteras and Ocracoke islands, but couldn't because the units were too heavy, said Salvation Army spokesman John Edwards.

Edwards said the units would be hauled aboard a ferry and taken to the island.

In Dare County, visitors were asked by Dare County authorities to stay away so clean-up could proceed unimpeded. It wouldn't be determined until Sunday whether people renting motel rooms could check in.

"If you are renting a vacation home or hotel room in South Nags Head, your vacation has been canceled due to Isabel," said a county statement.

Residents also were allowed to return to Ocracoke Island, reachable only by ferry. The grocery store was open, although it hadn't been resupplied.

"My place fared very well," said James Tucker, 31, a bar tender on the island, adding that several trees in his yard were blown down.

Tucker said the north end of the island, mostly uninhabited federal seashore, was wrecked. The road, N.C. 12, was covered with sand and utility poles were down or blown away.


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