Local News

Hurricane Repairs Still Needed in Duplin Even as New Season Begins

Posted June 25, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— You only have to look up in this Duplin County town to see why some residents are keeping a close eye on the hurricane season.

The silver cupola ripped from atop the 1911 courthouse tower has yet to be repaired months after Hurricane Fran and earlier Bertha socked this county to the tune of more than $30 million in damaged buildings and crops.

``It looks naked without the cupola atop the dome,'' county manager Jim Barnhardt said. ``I think about it every day.''

Hardly a day goes by that people in Duplin and other inland counties aren't reminded of the hurricane destruction more typical in coastal areas.

With the hurricane season under way, residents are buying generators and batteries before the next storm hits. Prison inmates are being used to unclog debris-ridden creeks.

And everyone's brushing up on weather terminology.

``Last year they didn't know the difference between a hurricane watch and a hurricane warning,'' said Doriss Barnette, a county emergency management worker, stamping hundreds of preparedness brochures to be handed out throughout Duplin this summer. ``But I bet they know now.''

Last year's hurricane season gave an unexpected one-two punch to Duplin's 40,000 mostly rural residents. Many of them don't remember back to 1954, when Hurricane Hazel became the benchmark storm to the inland county and eastern North Carolina.

Fran knocked out power for a week. Some towns didn't have water. Hundreds of homes suffered damage from fallen trees. A woman was killed when a tree collapsed on her home.

Today, the repairs continue. Tarps still dot a few roofs of homes along N.C. 24. Wooded areas are still littered with fallen limbs.

Frank Williams, a 58-year-old farmer from Wallace, lost 25 percent of his 400-acre corn crop to Bertha. ``We're not over it yet. It took all winter to clean up. It was just one big mess.''

At The Murray House, a 144-year-old bed-and-breakfast outside Kenansville, owner Lynn Davis still has hurricane debris piled in a nearby field that must be removed. She expects to have to cut down two more trees damaged by Fran. And there's a leak in her roof.

``We've had it fixed on three different occasions and they still haven't been able to find the leak,'' Davis said. ``... Hopefully we'll be ready if the next storm comes.''

Dozens of the most damaged homes were in the Pinecrest Acres subdivision in Kenansville, the county seat of about 900 residents. Driving along the street in his Jeep wagon, emergency management director Hiram Brinson recalls the damage: a crushed roof at this home; 25 pine trees lost to that home.

``We were saying it should have been called Pineless Acres after Fran,'' Brinson said.

Norma Guy looks out over stumps and cut firewood under what's left of a small grove of pines damaged by Fran. She says it would have been impossible to get ready for such a storm.

``I'm not prepared for the trauma of a storm again,'' said Mrs. Guy. ``I don't care how much you have ... I just don't believe you can ever be completely prepared for a hurricane.''

Brinson agrees, but he believes too many people were not prepared to be without power, water and food for so long.

He's been encouraging people to buy flashlights, extra batteries and enough nonperishable food to last 72 hours now, not wait until the next storm is churning along the Atlantic coast.

``Everybody should also try to have a generator,'' he said.

The suggestions are in the hurricane brochures being given out to state employees and workers at the county's turkey plants.

Some people already are getting ready for the next big storm to come. Judy Marshburn's hardware stores in nearby Warsaw and Wallace report a 25 percent increase in battery sales in June compared to the same month in 1996. She usually sells about one generator a month. She sold three of them during the first three weeks of June.

``When the first storms are spotted out in the Atlantic, they'll be more people buying things,'' she said. ``After going without power for a week last year, they're being a little more cautious.''

Brinson, the emergency management director for the past 27 years, says he also wants the county to buy generators for each of the four schools where shelters were set up during Fran. But that would cost upwards of $20,000 - a lot of money for a department with a $90,000 budget.

Meanwhile, the county is working to replace the courthouse tower to its pre-hurricane luster. An architect and a Kentucky company have been hired to build a new cupola and use a crane to place atop the courthouse at a cost of $29,000. They hope it will be fixed in the next few months.

``It's a unique item, a one of a kind,'' Barnhardt said. ``You just don't go to The Home Depot, get some plywood and replace it.''

Emergency officials are optimistic that residents will also be getting ready for the next storm.

``It'd been so long since a hurricane came through here,'' Barnette said. ``Now it suddenly occurred to people ... a hurricane can hurt you.''

By GARY D. ROBERTSON,Associated Press Writer Copyright ©1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or distributed.