Looking back: Hurricane Florence forever altered New Bern's future

New Bern took one of Florence's first and hardest hits. Record flooding pushed boats inland and swallowed nearly 800 businesses and homes.

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Cullen Browder
, WRAL anchor/reporter
NEW BERN, N.C. — In late September 2018, New Bern saw some of the most severe flooding during Hurricane Florence for upwards of 12 hours before the storm made landfall more than 90 miles away in Wrightsville Beach.

The historic Craven County community is a meeting point for the Trent and Neuse Rivers, which both feed directly into the Pamlico Sound -- making for the perfect storm for flooding.

New Bern took one of Florence’s first and hardest hits. Record flooding pushed boats inland and swallowed nearly 800 businesses and homes.

Hurricane Florence hit New Bern hard in September 2018.

It’s been 22 months since storm waters invaded Lois Cantlow’s home of more than 40 years.

"It was hard to lose everything you had," said Cantlow, a New Bern resident. "I put my feet on the floor and it was up to my ankles."

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Since their home was a total loss, the Cantlows had to rebuild higher and stronger. It took FEMA grants, loans and their retirement to rebuild since they had dropped flood insurance the year before.

"After 43 years of living here I got caught," said Debrou Cantlow. "It was a lesson learned."

Mayor Dana Outlaw said New Bern battled to lift its economy, an effort slowed recently by COVID-19. Some homes are still abandoned, and others reflect how Florence forever altered the city's future.

"We were getting white caps at about 12.5 feet, and 10.6 feet inland," Outlaw said. "Hurricane Florence is totally going to impact architecture and new designs for future construction."

Homes that are less than 50% damaged will not have to be elevated, but all other properties that had more than 50% damage will have to elevate to at least 11 feet.

In addition to rebuilding higher, New Bern will use federal grants to overhaul the community’s antiquated drainage system and more.

According to Outlaw, the biggest lesson learned from Florence was losing communication when the cell towers, which were running on diesel fuel, ran out.

"This can traumatize a community," said Outlaw, adding that the city continues working together to move past Florence.

For the Cantlows, it can also strengthen resolve.

"I never considered giving up," said Lois Cantow. "This is my home."

Know Your Zone

North Carolina's Know Your Zone tool has classified much of New Bern as a primary evacuation zone for when the next storm hits. Whether you live in one of these regions, have property there, or are on vacation, you can find your zone classification online by typing in your address on the new website.

It's important to note, just because you may not fall under a certain region does not mean you shouldn't evacuate.


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