Volunteers clean Florence storm debris for free in Wilmington

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— Hurricane Florence left 650 tons of debris behind in New Hanover County when it devastated the area last weekend.

The debris is piled up on the side of the road and is likely to remain there for weeks as people begin to clean up, but help cleaning up is hard to find. Port City Proud, a nonprofit formed in the wake of Florence, is helping people pick up the pieces after the storm.

When a 60-foot pine tree falls on your house, it’s hard to imagine how you’re going to clean it up. Logan Thompson, who works for a nonprofit that retrofits homes for children with special needs, evacuated to Pittsboro during the storm and returned home to find the tree on his house.

“I’m used to helping other people, so sometimes it’s hard to ask for help, but we really appreciate it,” Thompson said. “It feels wonderful. We have a wonderful community.”

After Drew Salley and his neighbors cleaned up their community, they decided to help others do the same by forming Port City Strong.

“We drag branches out to the road, clean up yards. We’ve got a ton of rakes, tarps, leaf blowers, chainsaws if we need them,” Salley said.

Volunteers meet at a parking lot every morning and then divide up into teams and spread out across Wilmington.

“There was so much destruction. We were so lucky in the storm, and so many others were not,” volunteer Jessica Miller said.

Fayetteville volunteers

“I think every single crew leader said people were coming out and giving them hugs and were in tears because they didn’t expect anyone to come and help them clean their yards out, especially older folks and people with disabilities who reached out to us through our social media,” Salley said.

Port City Proud volunteers work for free, but accept small donations from homeowners who can afford it to put toward helping more hurricane victims. The nonprofit has already raised $7,500.

While the cleanup continues, the threat of more flooding also looms as the water comes down the Cape Fear River. There are concerns about flooding in the northern part of the county as well as downtown Wilmington on Monday night.