Allen Castelloe, the town administrator, drove through the town, pointing out popular spots like Hammerhead’s Oyster Bar and Bunn’s Barbecue.
“I’m not sure that Hammerhead’s will even go back,” Castelloe said.
Windsor is nearly 50 miles east of Rocky Mount and sits on the Cashie River. The town is 2.8 square miles, with a population of about 3,600. It was founded in 1768.
Mayor James Hoggard said the town is OK, but they need to rebuild.
“In front of every business, there would be a debris pile almost the size of this room,” he said. “That water, when it gets in these buildings, has to be completely cleaned out and dried out.”
Castelloe said the flood was unfortunate for downtown businesses in particular — 60 percent of downtown has been damaged to some degree.
“One of our worst flooded businesses was Bunn’s Barbecue, which is a really historic, really cool place, well-known nationwide for the barbecue,” he said. “And they probably had several feet of water and are looking at being out a month and hopefully back in business.”
Been here before
This isn’t Windsor’s first flood.
“The folks here are so resilient,” Castelloe said. “Most of them, this is the third time since 1999.”
In 1999, Hurricane Floyd caused major flooding. In 2010, Tropical Storm Nicole did the same.
Billy Smithwick, chief of the Windsor Fire Department, has lived in Windsor his whole life and worked in the fire station for 49 years. He said he’s never lived more than a half mile from the station.
He grew up working for his dad and picking cotton to pay his way through school, but in 1984, when tornadoes hit Windsor, he moved to his true passion — emergency response.
“In 1984, we had the tornadoes that ravished the whole east, from down in the south in the Lumberton area right on up through Greenville, and up here we had six people killed,” he said.
“That was March the 28th at 9:02 is when it hit us. I’ll never forget the day, never forget the time and I know exactly what I was doing. I was laying on the couch, with my boots, my brogans, sitting right where I spun around and stuck my feet in, pulled the lashes and took off.”
He said everyone’s willing to lend a helping hand in a small town.
“It’s kind of like an artist painting a picture,” he said. “Everybody’s got a job. Everybody knows their job.”
Previous floods have served as a lesson for Windsor. The town mapped out where water pooled and blocked off those areas from traffic.
Windsor isn’t only concerned about human life during a storm — the town mini zoo, which includes animals such as emus, ostriches and buffalo, must be protected as well.
Hoggard said Windsor’s zoo provides residents from all over eastern North Carolina with a spectacle they might not have the opportunity to see otherwise.
“There are a lot of kids in this part of the state that will never get to Asheboro,” he said. “They’ll never see the zoo in Washington, D.C.”
Most of the animals are loaded up in trucks and brought to pens on the high ground, but buffalo are too difficult to transport — so instead, the town lets them loose.
Smithwick said the buffalo flee from the rising water on their own and the townspeople know better than to bother the animals. When the storm waters subside, they are lured back into their pens with a bucket of feed.
“It’s amazing, but that’s how it works. We found out that’s the best way to deal with them,” Smithwick said.
Prepping for the storm
Because the September flood was so sudden, the town decided to move all the animals to pens earlier than normal.
“This last event, the water was not predicted to rise like it was, and it just came in so fast,” Castelloe said. “We had to really struggle. We’re not going through that again.”
LuAnn Joyner, Vidant Bertie Hospital spokesperson, said the hospital is preparing for Hurricane Matthew, due to arrive on Friday, in the best way they can.
“I think probably the biggest thing we can do to help is be prepared for the influx of patients to the (emergency department),” she said. “Basically, our staff just has to be ready to roll and be here, and they are.”
As the smallest hospital in the state, with only six beds, she said they also work to evacuate people to other facilities.
Joyner said the hospital works with partners, too.
“We work extremely close with emergency management here in the county and in the town,” she said. “This is not uncharted waters for us, no pun intended there.”
Smithwick said flooding relief is a joint effort in which everyone pitches in.
“If it seems to us to be greater than something that we can handle, then we call on each other to help,” he said. “And that’s one of the great advantages of a small town is: I help the park, the parks helps me, I help electric, electric helps me.”
Smithwick said he is not worried about the town’s ability to respond to Hurricane Matthew — it’s something they are very prepared for.
“I was talking to a lady uptown this morning and she said, ‘Are you nervous about the storm?’ and I said, ‘No, why would I be nervous? We’re gonna do what we always do.’ We’re gonna pass the test, and we’ll overcome, and we’ll wait for the next time.”
State and National Editor Benji Schwartz and University Editor Acy Jackson contributed reporting.