After Matthew: When the waters rise again

SNOW HILL, N.C. (WNCT) – Floyd was supposed to be the big one, the only flood like it that we’d see in our lifetime. Then just 17 years later came Matthew.

“Every building that we own was under water,” said Sherry Madures who owns the Wooley Swamp Farm campground in Snow Hill.

The Madures family isn’t alone.

“We have $4.8 billion of damage to our state that needs addressing,” added North Carolina governor Roy Cooper.

Dr. Burrell Montz, professor and chair of the ECU Department of Geography, Environment, and Planning, is just now starting the work of understanding the lasting impacts after Matthew.

“We changed the use of the flood plain in many locations after Floyd,” explained Montz. “We elevated houses. We moved structures out of the flood plain to get them out of harm’s way. Great thing to do. The problem is that we have had in many neighborhoods for instance a lot of spotty development. When we develop in that way, we don’t have to take into account the impact that has on runoff.”

And Montz is quickly finding that runoff problems were a trademark of Matthew.

“Matthew was different than Floyd to a large extent and so we had a lot of runoff and local street flooding because it was coming down too fast for the storm sewer systems and others to handle it,” said Montz.

It’s a problem that may not have a simple solution.

“Do we make the culverts bigger.” said Montz. “Do we address storm sewers and try to make the storm sewers bigger? Do we dig more retention ponds to keep that water from running off so quickly in neighborhoods?”

Right now there seem to be more questions than answers. While people struggle with recovery more than 6 months after Matthew, another flood would prove that rising water is a problem that likely isn’t going away anytime soon.

“Some of my colleagues in climatology will tell us and I believe them that we’re due to get the same amount of rain but it’s going to come in intense storms rather than more long term storms,” said Montz. “So we’re likely to see this kind of flooding again.”

And climate research backs this up. According to the group Climate Central, the Southeast U.S, including North Carolina, has seen a 27% increase in days with heavy rainfall since the 1950’s. It’s a problem the Madures family has seen firsthand.

“I have never in my life sat here all 11 years worried that 4 or 5 inches of rain is going to take our business,” said Sherry Madures. “I don’t get it.”

“It will happen again if they don’t fix the problem,” added David Madures, owner of the Wooley Swamp Farm campground.

For the Madureses and others, answers can’t come soon enough. Their family business was wiped out by Hurricane Matthew. After spending what money they had to rebuild after Matthew, another flood just 7 months later put their dream on hold yet again.

“The water here was 8 feet deep, probably 6 to 8 feet deep,” said David Madures. “When it did flood, I was scared. I didn’t know it would go that high but we knew it would be different.”
Dr. Burrell Montz is currently studying just how different this pair of floods has been.
“There’s lots of issues,” said Montz. “And one is sort of deciding what is causing the floods in the first place. How do we protect against them?”

A collection of environmental groups thinks they may have some solutions to the East’s flood problems. Sound Rivers is a part of the group that sent this 4 page document to the state detailing some of their recommendations.
Travis Graves is the lower Neuse riverkeeper for Sound Rivers.
“Our floodplains, we’ve been chipping away at them for a long time,” explained Graves. “And those flood plains as we develop them, we encroach on the wetlands. The wetlands if you think about it they’re really kind of like a sponge. When the river tops its banks, we get big rain events like that, these low lying wetlands and these swamps are where that water can go. What we’re hoping for is that the state will start putting some resources into restoring those flood plains and wetlands.”
But that may be easier said than done.
“The governor recently requested $930 million in federal funding to help expedite the recovery process for North Carolina,” said Michael Sprayberry, director of NC Emergency Management. “We were notified that we’re only getting $6 million. I think that that’s very, very inadequate.”
“It’s not only Congress but the state legislature is going to have to come forward with some funding as well,” added Governor Cooper.
“We are trying to do everything we can, pulling our hair out, to try to figure out how we can generate revenue,” said North Carolina state senator Don Davis, who represents district 5 in eastern North Carolina. “We’re seeing some efforts made with resiliency planning, hazardous mitigation planning, but I’m just being candid, I don’t know that we do this alone.”
In the meantime, the Madures family continues to wait for help.
“We’re hoping to rebuild but honestly I can’t tell you right now,” said Sherry Madures.
Their dream left hanging in the balance.
“We just pray,” added Sherry Madures. “That’s all we can do is hope and pray.”

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