On Sept. 14, Hurricane Florence made landfall at Wrightsville Beach as a Category 1 storm.
Just four days earlier, the storm was a Category 4, but much of its speed was lost as it approached the coast, leading to an increase in precipitation. Unofficial radar reports on Sept. 18 estimated that Florence dropped eight trillion gallons of water on North Carolina.
In anticipation of the storm, more than 65 school districts cancelled classes, nearly all UNC-system schools closed and Gov. Roy Cooper deployed more than 2,800 National Guard service members.
The hurricane also brought severe flooding to many parts of the state.
A day after landfall, 150 shelters across the state housed nearly 20,000 people, and over 800,000 North Carolinians were without power. In the days that followed, the catastrophic flooding increased as more rain slammed the state’s eastern counties.
On Sept. 15, Cooper reported that 245 people and 77 animals had been rescued by relief workers. By Sept. 21, the number of people rescued had risen to nearly 5,000.
Classes at UNC-Chapel Hill started again on Sept. 18 after having been cancelled since 5 p.m. on Sept. 11.
Michael Jordan also pledged to help aid in the recovery. A native of Wilmington and a former basketball player at UNC-Chapel Hill, Jordan pioneered a fundraising campaign to donate money to various organizations assisting the victims, including American Red Cross and Foundation for the Carolinas.
Hurricane Florence left UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus relatively unscathed, but many students, faculty and staff were affected.. On Sept. 27, Carol Folt announced the launching of a $2 million fund and support hub for victims of the hurricane on campus.
Within a week of its opening, over 150 students had sought out the hub’s service to address issues, be them emotional, academic, financial or others brought on by the storm. The hurricane dropped 30 inches of rain on the Wilmington and Morehead City areas, affecting the homes of many University students.
Hurricane Florence devastated North Carolina, particularly the eastern counties and municipalities. As of Nov. 21, Florence was responsible, both directly and indirectly, for the death of 42 people in North Carolina. Major federal disaster assistance was approved for 28 counties, including New Hanover, Robeson and Sampson.
The damage caused by Florence raised significant environmental concerns. Eastern North Carolina has a high concentration of hog lagoons, which are open-air pits of animal manure that will be turned into fertilizer.
Due to their situation in the low-lying plains, the flooding could cause environmental damage if the waste were to spill into watersheds. Some towns, like Benson, faced significant wastewater discharge due to heavy flooding.
Cooper signed Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 4 into law on Oct. 3, both allowing for disaster relief. The governor requested the state legislature allocate $1.5 billion for helping those in need and projected the hurricane caused over $13 billion in damage. Later estimates made on Oct. 31 suggested damages were at $17 billion.
To compare, Hurricane Matthew, which struck in 2016, caused $4.8 billion in damage, and Hurricane Floyd, which struck in 1999, caused between $7 and $9.4 billion in damage. Both hurricanes combined caused billions less in damage than Florence.
After issuing a mandatory evacuation on Sept. 11, UNC-Wilmington resumed classes on Oct. 8. Many school districts throughout N.C. have struggled with making up the days missed by the hurricane, particularly those in the parts of the state hit hardest by the storm.
Just as the state began wide-scale recovery efforts, Hurricane Michael made landfall in Florida and pushed toward North Carolina, reaching the state as a tropical storm. Cooper urged caution for residents as power outages, concentrated in the Piedmont counties, occurred across the state. Roads were closed due to flooding and falling trees, which killed three people.
While the damage Michael caused paled in comparison to the $17 billion caused by Florence, it struck at a time when victims were just beginning to rebuild. Even months after the hurricane’s landfall, North Carolinians are still receiving assistance.
FEMA helped 720,000 people in 304,000 households purchase food. Twenty-eight counties were granted extensions on voter registration and there were concerns over whether or not voters in those counties would face difficulty come election day.
Even almost three months later, the state is still recovering from the disastrous effects of Hurricane Florence.
“Some storm losses can never be repaired or replaced,” Cooper said in a November press release. “We continue to mourn the lives lost to Hurricane Florence as we face the task of recovery with determination and compassion.”
The state will continue to cope with the effects of the storm for months to come. FEMA is still accepting applications for federal assistance until Dec. 13.
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