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Power restored to Grimesland, Grifton still waits

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Pam Jackson, a Red Cross Disaster Relief volunteer dishes up plates of food in Grimesland, Tuesday evening.

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By Ginger Livingston and Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

GRIMESLAND — The same day emergency responders brought food and water to Grimesland residents, contractors with Duke Energy Progress restored electric service to the town and surrounding community early Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, Grifton residents endured the heat and humidity that accompanied Tuesday’s sunny skies. 

The restoration of power in Grimesland meant all schools except Grifton Elementary are returning to their normal schedule today. 

Since the majority of Pitt County was not severely affected by Hurricane Florence, it made sense to reopen all schools except Grifton, Superintendent Ethan Lenker said.

“As we return to school, it is important for kids to get back into the classroom and on a regular routine,” Lenker said. “At the same time, we know there are communities and areas who have suffered great losses due to flooding and loss of power. We are also proud of the community in its response to this storm.”

Individuals in areas without power or who have been displaced are directed to make the best decision possible for the safety of their families.

These individuals should contact principals at their representative schools regarding absences or individual needs.

Schools are responding to these families’ needs. Ayden-Grifton High School has set up an assistance line for families: 495-8307. Individuals should leave their name, phone number, and state their need. The high school also has offered the use of its showers and the use of laundry facilities.

While its classes remain closed, Grifton Elementary will begin feeding lunch to its students and other individuals from the community who are 18 and younger, beginning today.

Transportation for lunch at Grifton will be provided for Grifton students only; they are directed to be at their regular bus stop four hours later than their usual time. A news release said food allergies cannot be accommodated. Buses will leave Grifton School at 1 p.m. to return home.

The town of Grimesland lost electricity at about 1 a.m. Friday, six hours before Hurricane Florence made landfall at Wrightsville Beach.

Town Clerk Barbara Chitmon said officials initially thought it would only take a few days to restore electricity. When Monday arrived, the fourth day without power, Duke Energy Progress’ online outage map stated it would be Sept. 26 before electricity would be restored to Grimesland and Grifton. 

Chitmon said when a Duke Energy Progress official confirmed the timeline, town officials began talking with Pitt County Emergency Management and state. Sen. Don Davis, D-Pitt, about bringing aid to the community. He estimates about 600 families within the town and the surrounding community were without electricity on Tuesday.

Even though electricity was fully restored by 7 p.m.,  Lee Latham, Grimesland public works director, said water and hot food still is scheduled to be given away at the Grimesland Fire Department today. 

The American Red Cross brought meals-ready-to-eat kits on Monday night, Grimesland Mayor Eleanor Farr said. On Tuesday, the relief agency provided hot meals for lunch and dinner and the North Carolina National Guard brought in more than 1,700 cases of water for distribution.

“In this end of the county we were pretty much the only one out. It’s an isolated spot,” Latham said. “But everyone seems to be working together to get things taken care of.

“We are asking people to be patient and to know we are working on the situation,” Latham said. “They are not on an island by themselves. The Board of Aldermen are doing everything possible to get the word out.”

Grimesland Aldermen Ted Bowles and Ronnie Bowling loaded cases of water into the backseats and trunks of cars, minivans and SUVs that drove up to the Grimesland Fire Department where the meals and water distribution was staged.

“We want to make sure people are fed and have water,” Bowles said.

When retired school teacher Melvinna Wiggins pulled up, Bowles embraced her.

“The last couple of days have been a challenge. It’s been hot without electricity. There’s no power to charge phones or anything like that,” said Wiggins, who taught 29 years at G.R. Whitfield School. “I’ve been sitting in the car trying to keep cool and charge things.”

Wiggins’ home has well water, which requires a pump. The pump does not function without electricity.

“We’ve got tubs full of water and pans. We’re trying to maneuver things, trying to be out during the day to visit or run errand,” she said. “We’re trying to come up with a game plan because it’s starting it get sunny and it’s very hot.”

While Duke Energy Progress supplies the town’s electricity, Grimesland operates its own water and sewer systems and has been using generators to keep both operating, Latham said.

The town is spending about $800 every other day to fuel the generators, said Chitmon, the town clerk. 

“You can do a lot if you have water,” she said.

While water and food was being distributed on Tuesday afternoon, three crews with 5-Star, a transmission and distribution infrastructure company that is a Duke Energy contractor, were restoring utility poles and electric lines along nearby Grimes Farm Road.

Grifton

Water was receding from the parking lots of Grifton’s Tropicana Supermarket and the Dollar General on Tuesday. Nearby Contentnea Creek was at 20 feet at 6 p.m., according to the National Weather Service.

With the water is returning to the creek, Grifton town leaders hope electricity will soon return to the community.

A Duke Energy official told Grifton Town Manager Mark Warren that power soon would be restored.

“There's a lot of rumors and misinformation out there on Facebook but I was told that we should be getting power restored Thursday,” Warren said.

People are anxious to return home.

Tucker Street resident Yvette Thorbs, who was given a mandatory evacuation Thursday, has been staying with family since then. On Tuesday she sat on a bench near the town hall.

“We don't know when we going to come back home,” Thorbs said. “They tell us to get out but they ain't telling us when we can come back. I go to my house but I don't stay because I don't have any power.”

Thorbs also is concerned that many of her neighbors and friends cannot leave and get food.

“Unless you got a vehicle, you can't go anywhere and not everybody can go see Mr. Billy at the Grifton Mission,” Thorbs said.

Billy Carlton heads up Grifton Mission Ministries, a nonprofit group that feeds hundreds of people each day.

For now, Thorbs said that citizens cannot get basic supplies and are having to sweat it out. She is worried about how that is affecting the elderly, especially one family friend.

“Ms. Marjorie West is 103 years old and nobody worried about getting her out,” Thorbs said. “She is sitting over there in her house for days with no lights and nobody going in to check on her because people were evacuating.”

Greenville

Back in Greenville, 102 families remained housed in the two shelters operated by the American Red Cross.

Pitt County Animal Services Director Michele Whaley is trying to find new accommodations for the 111 cats and dogs, one rabbit and one pig there when their owners evacuated. The Leroy James Farmers Market, where some animals have been housed, wants to reopen on Saturday and Whaley wanted to empty the building Tuesday night.

“We're calling people and they're like, 'I'm at work ' and we're like, “Well, we helped you out, you need to help us out because now we're getting all the stray calls and we don't have anywhere to put them,” Whaley said.

“Everyone goes back to normal but we're not back to normal; not even close,” she said. “And our staff is tired. We've been working 24 hours non-stop and have been sleeping here as we care for the animals.”

The shelter is operating from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. until further notice.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570. 

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