GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – The cleanup continues across eastern North Carolina following the devastation left behind following Hurricane Matthew.
It’s the most destructive storm to affect the area since Hurricane Floyd back in 1999.
You don’t have to go far to find evidence of the deadliest hurricane in North Carolina in the 20th century. Even just outside of the WNCT studio is a reminder of the lives lost and billions of dollars in damage caused by Floyd.
It’s a painful reminder for many, but an experience that could help keep you, your family and your property safe the next time the big one hits.
“If we just had Floyd, there probably wouldn’t have been a flood, nothing like there was,” said Burrell Montz, Chair, ECU Department of Geography, Planning and Environment. “But Dennis came two weeks before and saturated the area and then Floyd just added insult to injury on top of that.”
September 1999. 53 people died statewide during Hurricane Floyd, a storm that caused $4 billion worth of damage in North Carolina.
Fast forward to October 2016, as Hurricane Matthew approached the coast, many warned it could be the next Floyd.
“I think that the use of Floyd as an analogy to what might happen with Matthew, which was very capable of happening, very possible of happening with Matthew, was really good to give people an indication of how large this event could really be,” said Montz, who’s the chair of ECU’s Geography, Planning and Environment Department. She studies the impacts storms have on communities and what can be done from a planning perspective to diminish those impacts during future storms.
Montz said decisions made by city, county and state leaders in the years after Floyd may have lessened the overall impact of Matthew.
“After Floyd, we raised houses above anticipated flood levels,” said Montz. “It worked for Matthew. These houses were not flooded, many of them. We had the evacuations, we closed the right roads, people chose to listen or not listen. But emergency management, I think, did a really good job on this one.”
Those lessons helped not only residents, but businesses and government organizations, too.
“We were a lot better prepared this time as a unit than we were back during Floyd,” explained Len White, Lenoir Co. maintenance engineer, NCDOT. “We had what barricades we needed. We had personnel already lined up when they started forecasting this thing. We already had the plan in place and ready to mash the button.”
Water inundated Pitt-Greenville Airport during Floyd. Luckily that didn’t happen this time around. Yet, they were ready.
“In Floyd, we only had a single level and a lot of our equipment was ruined, our files and things,” said Betty Stansbury, Executive Director, PGV Airport. “This time we had enough advance warning we were able to take a lot of our building contents and our equipment up to the second floor.”
But there’s something that couldn’t be accounted for during Matthew.
“We’ve sprawled. We’ve sprawled a lot,” said Montz.
Greenville’s population is now around 91,000. When Floyd hit, it was just over 60,000.
“We’ve had a lot of development since Floyd, too,” said Montz. “A lot more impermeable surfaces. You know, lots of residential developments, more shopping centers and things like that. So we’re going to have a lot more runoff to deal with and we can expect more floods in the nature of Matthew because of that.”
So the learning opportunities for Montz and others will continue, knowing one day the next ‘big one’ will hit.
For now, that distinction still goes to Hurricane Floyd.
“No two storms are the same,” said Montz. “And rarely is a person’s situation exactly the same for two different storms. So 1999 to 2016, a lot of years have passed, those who went through Floyd are older. I have students in my class who were little kids when Floyd hit. But they remember it.”