Robeson County residents who were around then are unlikely to ever wash from their memory Oct. 9, 2016, when they emerged from their dwellings, punch-drunk from an 18-hour beating, and took a look around, trying to make sense of what Hurricane Matthew, which was forecast to be mainly a rain event, had wrought.
It was already bad when daylight arrived that morning, and it was going to get worse as the Lumber River continued to rise for days, shoving floodwaters farther into homes and businesses; blocking and destroying roads, even Interstate 95; causing hundreds of millions of dollars of damage; and forever adding dread for county residents as they track hurricanes that include Southeastern North Carolina in their possible paths.
No one expected the devastation that ultimately was attached to Matthew. But there it was, all around us, disrupting every aspect of our lives, and forever changing the lives of those among us who had been hit the hardest.
Then came Sept. 13, 2018, when the county began feeling the might of slow-moving Hurricane Florence, which would turn into a three-day event, leaving devastation similar to that from Matthew.
No one, we are sure, would have guessed in advance of Hurricane Matthew that Robeson County could experience two 500-year flooding events inside of two years. But the county did and barely ducked a third this year. Although better prepared for Florence, we were hardly prepared either time.
There isn’t much mankind can do when Mother Nature gathers her strength and quickly unleashes her fury. But as individuals, we should do what we can, and that includes fortifying our homes to the degree that is possible, or even finding a new one. The time to do so is now, and not when a hurricane has us in its crosshairs.
Part of that preparation is the duty of our government. But there is self-responsibility as well — and that brings us to the point of today’s Our View. If you haven’t already, take the time to read the article on page 1 by Scott Bigelow about the newest federal flood maps that took effect on Friday.
“There are changes with every new edition,” said Amber Davis, Robeson County’s hazard mitigation specialist. “I would absolutely look at these maps, and if I were in a flood zone, I would consider relocating.”
The maps outline waterways, and 100-year and 500-year flood zones. The newest version also provides elevations above or below flood stage, so a homeowner can know what to expect should the worst happen.
To find any property in Robeson County or North Carolina, go to the Flood Risk Information System website at fris.nc.gov, then click on a county and type in an address. Those without the internet or who struggle to make sense of the maps, can call the Robeson County Planning Department at 910-272-6521 to find help.
The program does more than allow property owners to purchase federal flood insurance. It also guides local planning.
Flood zones are not stagnant, however, which is why the maps are updated, and residents should remain informed. They drift, affected by many factors, construction being one of them. So a home that wasn’t in a flood zone a decade ago, might be now.
Davis’ recommendation to flee a flood zone is not practical for everyone, but are other ways to mitigate the risk. For that to happen, the risk must be understood. That information is available at fris.nc.gov. It would be prudent to take a look.