HURRICANE FLORENCE: Estimated 5,000 structures flooded in Pender

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‘It’s astronomical right now. It’s a whole lot worse than Floyd was’

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — Flooded rivers throughout the region either have crested or will crest soon and are slowly pushing water from Hurricane Florence to the ocean, giving rescuers and emergency officials the chance to start reaching areas previously not accessible.

“We’re going to check all the houses we can and make sure nobody is there,” said Tom Collins, director of emergency management for Pender County. “It’s going to take several days to do that. But right now it’s going.”

The Northeast Cape Fear River and Black River in Pender County and the Cape Fear River in Wilmington have all crested and are slowly receding, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

“The river will remain above major flood stage into Wednesday night but will continue to fall into the weekend,” the NWS said in a briefing about the Northeast Cape Fear River. The Cape Fear River in Wilmington “will increase with peak tidal flooding, especially tonight into Wednesday, with each high tide. Levels could reach around 7.5 feet with the peak high tides. Lesser impacts will likely continue through the end of the week.”

Recovery efforts in Pender

Collins said officials have identified more than 3,100 buildings that were affected by floodwaters, with 90 suffering “major damage” and 42 destroyed. But officials are still trying to reach some areas — particularly near the rivers — they haven’t been able to get to as of Tuesday. He estimated that the total buildings affected by floodwaters will be more than 5,000.

“It’s astronomical right now,” he said. “It’s a whole lot worse than (Hurricane) Floyd was.”

Homes that had been rebuilt after previous storms, including Hurricane Matthew in 2016, flooded again, “some all the way to top of the roof,” he said. “There were some houses that are not even in the (500-year) flood plain that got 3 or 4 feet of water.”

Collins said several areas remain impassable and flooded, particularly near the lower end of the Northeast Cape Fear River.

Collins said he is thankful that Florence, at one point a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 140 mph, lost steam somewhat before making landfall in Wrightsville Beach as a Category 1 storm with sustained winds of 90 mph.

“Those prayers helped, that’s all I can say,” he said. “If it had hit as a Category 4 storm, we’d have been a third-world country.”

Food stamps

Pender County on Tuesday evening announced it would provide automatic benefits to current beneficiaries, while extending hours — including on Saturdays — for people wishing to sign up for new benefits.

Anyone wishing to apply for disaster food stamps in Pender County can do so in person at the Pender County Agricultural Building at 801 South Walker St. in Burgaw from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and from Monday through Saturday next week, according to Pender County.

“All current food stamp recipients do not need to apply, replacement benefits of 60 percent and supplements will be placed automatically on your (Electronic Benefit Transfer) card,” the county said in a release. “Replacement of (Food and Nutrition Services) benefits will be placed on current recipients EBT card Thursday, Sept. 27.”

Brunswick County announced it would administer federal disaster benefits and would accept applications at the Odell Williamson Auditorium at Brunswick Community College, 150 College Road, Bolivia. The site will be open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays through Oct. 5 and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and on Oct. 6.

“Residents may qualify for assistance for a one-month period if their home was damaged or destroyed or they have disaster related expenses, or they lost income or had food loss because of a power outage or household flooding resulting from Hurricane Florence,” the county said in a release. “Residents currently receiving food stamp benefits, including those requesting replacement benefits, are not eligible for this disaster program.”

Reporter Tim Buckland can be reached at 910-343-2217 or