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Hunt: Hurricane recovery ‘takes months, years’

FLOYD NEW HOMES

Gov. Jim Hunt swings his hammer as he nails siding to the outside wall of a home under construction in Tarboro on Aug. 11, 2000. The home was one of two built by Greene Correctional Institution inmates to be sold to victims of Hurricane Floyd flooding.

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The Wilson Times

Thursday, September 20, 2018

WILSON — State officials have little time to breathe a sigh of relief when a hurricane’s fierce wind and stinging rain subside, former Gov. Jim Hunt said this week.

He knows better than most that a storm may rage for hours and spawn a recovery process that plods along for years.

Hunt spoke with North Carolina Public Radio’s Jeff Tiberii from his Wilson County homestead as Hurricane Florence approached the state’s southern coastline. While the four-term governor dealt with dozens of natural disasters, Hurricane Floyd in 1999 stands out as a singular example.

“Those scenes are seared in my memory of the losses and the damage,” Hunt said, “but also great stories of courageous people, brave people helping each other recover, doing the great work of rescuing and cutting the trees off and the limbs up and getting them out of the way.

“I know down in Seven Springs in Wayne County, you’d have people who stay involved for months and maybe for years helping people recover and trying to restore their homes after they’d been flooded,” he said.

Floyd made landfall at Cape Fear on Sept. 16, 1999 as a Category 2 hurricane packing 105 mph winds. The storm dumped 19 inches of rain on Wilmington and raked eastern North Carolina on a northward track that traced the Atlantic coastline. The storm claimed 74 lives, including 51 in North Carolina.

“When it hits, you’ve got to be prepared to rescue people,” Hunt said. “Some of them are going to be in danger right then, many of them may well be killed or put very much in harm’s way, so you’ve got to be ready to rescue them, pull them out of that dangerous situation and put them in safe places. And then you start that long, long recovery process.”

Tiberii, WUNC-FM’s capitol bureau chief, interviewed Hunt for a segment on the state government’s response to hurricanes. He asked Hunt whether he was able to sleep when cyclones lashed the state overnight.

“I did not,” Hunt said. “I was constantly receiving information, giving orders, getting information coming in during the night even. You’ve got to constantly be on top of things, in command of things and ready to go.”

Floyd caused an estimated $6.5 billion in damage, and the process of repairing damaged homes and rebuilding those the storm destroyed took years. An Associated Press photograph shows Hunt lending a hand at home construction in Tarboro about 11 months after the catastrophic hurricane.

“You just have to stick with that,” Hunt said. “That’s the part that is not glamorous and that you will not be talking about in your news programs. It takes months and years to recover from bad, bad hurricanes.”

As for Florence, the former governor said his fellow Tar Heels are ready to respond regardless of the possible death toll or damage estimate.

“And I’ll bet you that North Carolinians — as we have always done — will be courageous and heroic and will stick with it and help each other and not quit until the job is done,” Hunt said.

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