We tarry at our peril and so must continue to move forward, to seek not what divides, but what unites us all. The effects of Hurricane Florence will have both short and long-term impacts on the people of North Carolina. Record rainfall, long period hurricane force winds and record storm surge pounded coastal and inland communities. Adding insult to injury, Tropical Storm Michael quickly followed with significant damage and power outages. However, as in past storms, these natural disasters unite communities and show the enduring spirit and good in people.
Following the storm, I first talked and visited with division staff, many of whom were severely impacted by Florence. In fact, 21 division families were displaced from their homes and apartments, and many are still not back in them. Sadly, a few lost their homes entirely. The damage was also significant to division offices and especially to the Wilmington Regional Office, where many division and Department of Environmental Quality staff are still not allowed into their offices due to damage from Hurricane Florence. The Morehead City Headquarters and District offices were also damaged and closed for over a week, although a dedicated maintenance staff limited the overall damage to our facilities.
A common response amongst all the impacted staff was that “they were lucky, and others had it worse.” I find that remarkable and humbling. Those who did not have damage immediately went into action to help their colleagues. Our Marine Patrol, featured in several articles in this edition of the INSIGHT, performed over 60 rescues, including several in front of my home near Newport, 10 miles inland, where the small Newport River surged 9 to 12 feet and inundated farm fields and houses alike. Other staff took initiative to assist the public with division assets, such as dump trucks and loaders. Others cut trees for neighbors, filled sandbags and helped with cleanup efforts following the storm. The secretary and the Department of Environmental Quality also provided tremendous flexibility to allow affected staff of all DEQ divisions to put at least some of their homes back together. I am proud to call them all colleagues.
Over the years, I have found this post-storm unity to be true with the residents and businesses of coastal North Carolina after hurricanes. Following this storm, it was no different, and even as I visited owners of damaged recreational, commercial and charter business and docks, the same spirit of independence and willingness to help was apparent. I saw offers of assistance from recreational groups to help storm victims and words of encouragement that helped maintain plans for fishing tournaments and charters, to provide badly needed income to the affected communities and businesses. Commercial groups reached out to aid and document damage. Dealers offered assistance and free ice to residents and provided generators to their competing dealers. Neighbors helped their neighbors, and complete strangers provided a helping hand to those in need.
So, as we move forward and get back to the complex tasks before the division in the upcoming months, I sense a renewed opportunity to continue the good will and to try to find ways to seek common ground so that all may benefit from our natural resources. And as you read through the articles in this issue of the INSIGHT, try to imagine how these programs and activities can benefit all the citizens of North Carolina, so that we can provide recreation, food and vibrant and sustainable resources for years to come.
Thank you and stay safe out on the water.