Wilmington braces for second hit from Florence as state IDs routes to safely reach city

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— Last week, Hurricane Florence battered Wilmington with days of high winds and heavy rains. Now, as residents and business owners try to get back on their feet, the flooded Cape Fear River could give the city another punch.

The river is expected to crest Saturday evening at 7 feet, about 1½ feet above flood stage. Moderate flooding occurs at 6.7 feet, and New Hanover County officials have told local residents to be prepared for flooding through Tuesday.

“Sometimes, when the tide comes up, it comes right over the break wall, and it can come right back in again,” said Jeff Clemens, who owns Fuzz Love, a clothing and accessories store on Water Street in downtown Wilmington.

The city has largely been cut off because of floodwaters but on Saturday, the state Department of Transportation announced three safe alternate routes drivers can use to safely get to Wilmington. Those include:

  • From the south, take U.S. Highway 17
  • From the north, travel on Interstate 40 East to N.C. Highway 24 East (exit 373), then onto US-17 South
  • From Fayetteville, take N.C. Highway 87 to U.S. Highway 701 South to N.C. Highway 211 East to U.S. Highway 74 East

Additionally, people may use I-40 to exit 373 and NC-24 to reach Jacksonville.

Florence flooded Fuzz Love with several feet of water, and Clemens has spent recent days cleaning 3 inches of mud and debris from the store and salvaging what merchandise and equipment he can.

“We’re doing the best we can trying to get back to some normal life around here,” he said. “We’re used to hurricanes, but this one is crazy. It already wrecked us, and now we’re trying to clean up, and they’re saying it might happen again.”

Water Street was dry Thursday, Clemens said, but it already was several inches underwater by Friday.

“I’m going up higher and moving some stuff out,” he said.

Debbie Stuber, co-owner of R&D Designs, another Water Street clothing and accessories store, already has sand bags stationed outside the front door of her business.

“When [2016 Hurricane] Matthew came and we had flooding, it did go all the way through the store, and they’re telling us it’s going to be a couple of feet higher than that this time,” Stuber said.

Business already has been scant this week, she said, and several R&D employees haven’t been able to return to Wilmington after Florence.

Clemens said Fuzz Love has been closed for eight straight days, and he doesn’t know when he’ll be able to reopen.

“It’s definitely brutal for us business owners,” he said.

Still, a small Buddha statue in the corner of the store is helping Clemens focus on better days ahead.

“He’s keeping everyone happy,” he said as he rubbed the belly of the statue. “Trying to make the best of it.”