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Beach nourishment, road repairs and positive PR among the goals communities are focusing on in the wake of the storm
SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — As floodwaters recede and local communities try to resume a sense of normalcy after Hurricane Florence, local towns and cities are at work identifying their priorities moving forward.
From beach nourishment to emergency stormwater repairs to continued assistance for displaced residents, each town is facing its own Florence fallout.
Here’s where some of the region’s major population centers stand two weeks after the storm barreled ashore at Wrightsville Beach:
The Port City is still assisting its residents forced from their homes by damage and focusing on getting the intense swaths of debris lining the streets picked up. But Wilmington mayor Bill Saffo said they are also beginning to think about battling national perceptions that could hurt the city in the weeks and months ahead.
“We have a lot of small businesses hurting because of this storm,” he said. “We need to try and find ways that get the word our that Wilmington is still in business and we are going to be okay.”
Saffo said national news coverage gave the impression Wilmington was damaged beyond repair — a misconception he is worried will keep people away.
“Tourism is a big part of our industry here, and taking a significant hit on that is going to hurt,” he said. “The perception now exists and will exist until people come back and we are getting back to normal.”
As Florence bore down on the the region, Carolina Beach officials were battling rumors that power and water services would be shut off on the island.
Mayor Joe Benson none of that ever happened, especially because the town doesn’t have the ability to cut off power. Since then, storm-induced power and water outages have been restored and now the town will focus on rebuilding its dune system.
Wind and rain did a number on the beaches, but Benson said they were never toppled by surge and their post-storm condition was better than expected.
Before Florence, the town drew up a sand replenishment estimate, but Benson said it needs to be increased about 30 percent before bids can go out to contractors next month.
Wrightsville Beach had the unfortunate distinction of being the site of landfall for Hurricane Florence, initially sparing it of some of the brutal winds on the north side of the storm. But in the weeks after the show, the town has been left to contend with a sewer system pump problem.
“We’re limping along because some of the big pumps that burned up in the hurricane water,” said Mayor Bill Blair.
Elsewhere, the town is in the process of seeking emergency sand funding after the hurricane stripped the beaches.
“There was a flattening effect, but thankfully, not much overwash,” Blair said.
Mayor Brenda Bozeman said Leland main priority continues to be the safety of its residents, some of which have lost everything due to catastrophic flooding in some neighborhoods.
Right now, efforts are underway to get power to the few who don’t have it and debris picked up from those able to start the recovery work at home.
“It is heartbreaking,” she said of some of the devastated neighborhoods, including the hard-hit Stoney Creek community. “Families have had to completely gut their homes. It will bring tears to your eyes to see how these people have their whole lives in their front yard.”
The town is not facing any widespread power or utility outages, but there remains the pressing matter of rebuilding.
“It is not like anything I have seen in our area in my lifetime,” Bozeman said.
Pender County’s island towns took a big hit by Florence, and Surf City is already hard at work restoring its beaten beach.
“We are sifting through the sand that came up on the streets and in yards, and getting all the debris out to put it back on the beach,” said Mayor Doug Medlin.
The town will also removed a foot of sand from all of its dunes, so it can be cleaned of debris and returned to the beach. Sand will also have to be pumped out of the sewer system in several places.
Medlin expected the whole process to take up to two months.
There is also limited access to the beach, as most of the accesses were washed away or destroyed by winds, many of which won’t be built back, Medlin said.
Boiling Spring Lakes
The Boiling Spring Lakes dam breach grabbed several headlines during Florence, leaving the town with the headache of repairing several roads washed out.
With power and utilities restored, Mayor Craig Caster said getting around is of chief concern for the town.
“We had so many roads breached from floodwater and cut out that we have the National Guard helping the city repair roads,” he said.
Southport was completely cut off from the world from nearly two days after the storm due to floodwaters.
Now, it’s trying to tidy up all those access points and get a handle on the damage that water did to its sewer system, which includes a lot of pipe and sewage disposal system damage.
“There was just an overwhelming amount of rain and water, more than we’ve ever had,” said Mayor J.V Dove. “It overpowered our system. We were ready for normal rains and conditions, but nothing that like this. So we are getting that under control.”
Those repairs will require crews to dig any necessary roads to replace pipes, he said, in addition to standard debris and tree clean-up.
Reporter Hunter Ingram can be reached at Hunter.Ingram@StarNewsOnline.com.