Residents in the tiny community who stayed to ride out Florence were rescued this morning after waters rose as much as 15ft
Rice’s Creek is underwater. The tiny community in North Carolina looks like a lake, resident Alex Tatum said on Sunday, as the water lapped inches below his elevated double-wide trailer, minutes from seeping inside.
Those who remained filed over to neighbor Chris Hamrick’s father’s empty house – he left during the week, for higher ground – and fired up the generator.
It was a cosy scene: the TV fired up, Hamrick’s girlfriend, Nicole Tatum, 49, stirring up a pancake mix and cracking eggs. Tatum’s son, Alex, sipped a beer and plugged in his iPhone. Mandi Dreeland, Alex Tatum’s girlfriend, turned on a coffee machine and complained about the powdered creamer. Two dogs ran between the tangle of legs.
“We played Monopoly yesterday for an hour and a half and I won,” Dreeland said, of time spent under Florence’s eye-wall on Friday. Another neighbor said: “Well, it’s interesting how the banker won.”
It was a time of deceptive calm. On higher ground, in urban, tourist-friendly Wilmington, in neighboring New Hanover county, streets were lined with uprooted trees still in their concrete casings and downed power lines. But the damage was done. Debris-clearing teams were working, power trucks were restoring electricity. The worst was over and major flooding was deemed unlikely.
But Rice’s Creek is in a low-lying, rural, unincorporated area of Brunswick county. It was seeing the waters rise, in real time.
First they let the chickens out, so they could find a safe space in the trees. Then Hamrick shut off the generator, to save the 10 hours of gas he had left. It could be a long time before the power comes back to this community.
“We’re not a big city,” Dreeland said. “We’re 27 people. Nobody gives a shit about us.”
Four roads lead to Alex Tatum’s father’s home, just two miles away. Two flooded in the last few hours of Saturday, waves forming in mini seas left by Florence, Towne Creek and Rice Creek rising after three days of rain. Another was blocked by a fallen tree. One option remained: it involved yet another flood, not as high as the others.
“Wow, this road used to be beautiful,” Tatum said, looking sadly at a two-story home now without a roof. “I was going to rent that home,” he said, pointing to a flooded front yard with a tree on top of it. A spa and fitness center, opened a month ago, was half submerged.
Nearly two hours later, Tatum’s father met his son on the porch, urging him to move over to his dry home. Still not convinced, the pair decide to go back to their mobile home. The water they had crossed just 15 minutes earlier had come up. The road back to Leland and Wilmington was under about three feet of water. Four hours earlier, even with the barrage of rainfall, it had been dry.
The window to leave was closing; not minute by minute, but second by second. They drove by US State 17 one last time, dropping off this reporter. Ten minutes later they took a last look, spotting a red car stalling in the water with lights flashing.
The edge of the cross street had collapsed, water rushing across the road, covering both sides of the road and meridian. Pickup trucks hesitated, drivers shook their heads, turning toward drier roads. Another neighbor valiantly drove my car through 4ft of water, a wave from larger oncoming cars hitting the windows. If we had waited five more minutes, escape would have been impossible.
Tatum and Dreeland watched until I reached safety, then drove back into the muddy but mostly dry road to Rice’s Creek for a cookout with neighbors and family.