'It was survival': Six months after Florence, rescuers and victims recall desperate moments

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— Many people took their chances during Hurricane Florence.

Barbara Saunders was one of them. Six months later, she says she regrets it.

Water was rising around her New Bern apartment. Her granddaughter was there, too.

WRAL’s reporter Adam Owens and photojournalist Mark Stebnicki found her during the storm, nervously considering her options.

“I have never known water could be so powerful,” Saunders said. “And then that, coupled with the wind.”

At some point, when water moved into the home, there were no more options.

“I had to wade through chest-deep water to get out,” she said.

Now, Saunders must leave again.

She said there are plans to demolish the flooded apartment buildings.

During the storm, Owens and Stebnicki also found a woman in a wheelchair who desperately needed help on a flooded road with rising water.

Juanita Williams was with Thomas Brown, who said the two were cut off and running short on vital medical supplies.

Claims from Florence

Select a county below to see losses from Hurricane Florence based on claims for residential property tracked by the N.C. Department of Insurance as of November 2018.

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In Wake County, residents filed 4,234 claims for a total of $21,979,855 in losses. That’s about $5,191 per claim, or $20.89 per person based on the population of the county.

“We didn’t have that much oxygen left, so we had to get out and go to the hospital,” Brown said.

The National Guard lifted Williams to safety.

“That was awesome,” Brown said. “That was awesome.”

water rescue

At the height of the storm, Craven County emergency services director Stanley Kite said, 1,800 people were rescued in less than six hours.

“We were moving people, at one point, faster than we could take them to a shelter,” Kite said.

“It was survival,” he said. “At that point, it became a matter of life and death.”

Scenes Across the Carolinas, Where Florence Is Far From Over

As much as 10 feet of water was even pouring into the county building he was working in. It took out a magistrate’s office and some equipment.

Emergency management officials on a higher floor could continue responding to the disaster.

Six months later, just like everyone else, they are still building back.

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