Hurricane Florence arrived on the Carolina
Coast in the fall of 2018 and destroyed
infrastructure, property, displaced residents, and
the recovery is not over. Making matters worse
is the areas’ recent encounter with a similar
hurricane two years ago; Hurricane Matthew.
Hurricane Matthew was first hypothesized to be
a storm that would only be experienced once in
every half millennium.
Only two years later Hurricane Florence
was said to be a storm bringing in the type of
waterlogged destruction only to be seen every
1,000 years, and it impacted the same region.
“In an area like Robeson County, there is an
immense area of 100-year floodplain, because
it’s so flat and the areas that are close to the
river, the swampy areas, are large,” said Martin
Farley, professor and chair of the department
of geology and geography at the University of
North Carolina at Pembroke.
Cities like Lumberton, which sit beside the
Lumber River have floodplains within their city
“My simple advice, don’t build in
floodplains,” said Wesley Highfield, an associate
professor of marine biology at Texas Agricultural
& Mechanical University.
Some residents who live in floodplains are
advised to move and simply choose not to. The
cost of moving to another location or leaving
behind a home that they hold dear is worth the
risk of flooding.
For the floodplains to be fully evacuated and
used for environmental conservation, the residents
living in the area must all agree to let their
land be purchased by the local government.
This is difficult because the local government
must first get all residents to agree to the process
and secondly because the funding necessary
for projects like this are often too great to be
covered without outside sponsors.
Pembroke officials recently published new
zoning plans that should alleviate damage from
flooding experienced in past hurricane seasons.
In the wake of Hurricane Matthew many
questions concerning public safety, emergency
relief, and city plans for future disasters have
arisen. One major area of concern is the possibility
that the city of Lumberton and CSX, a railroad
company, neglected to do all that they could to
deter flooding, potentially endangering the lives
According to an article posted on WRAL.com, a
gap created by a CSX railroad underpass through
Interstate 95 in the town’s levees was the cause for
significant flooding to the western section of Lumberton .
The city of Lumberton opened a lawsuit against
CSX claiming that the company prioritized its railways
over the lives of Lumberton citizens.
North Carolina Dams have been pushed to
their limits after Matthew and Florence came in
such quick succession. Officials sent warnings
to evacuate to cities like New Bern in fear of
dams breaching and heavily monitored water
activity around the dams. In Fayetteville,
residents are suing the city because it failed to
rebuild broken and damaged dams in the area.
Slow response rates to matters of public
safety have left many citizens questioning their
False reports of breaking dams were issued
by members of communities like Hope Mills,
causing many families to evacuate prematurely in fear
for their lives. Hoke County also experienced a
similar situation where residents jumped the gun
and, instead of waiting for official instruction,
hastily left the area because of false reports of
the dam breaking.
The dam in Hope Mills broke under the
stress of the consistent downpour caused by
Hurricane Matthew two years prior.
Due to Florence, dams in Anson County,
Boiling Springs and Wilmington broke and
caused considerable damage and resident
displacement, especially in Wilmington’s case
where the city was surrounded by water which
trapped residents in the city limits.
According to data submitted to the National
Inventory of Dams, North Carolina has 1,445
dams rated high hazard out of about 5,700 dams
total. The hazard rate doesn’t indicate the condition
of the dam but rather the risk the community
will face if the dam were to break. However, of
those 1,445 dams that are placed in precarious
positions 185 are classified as being in poor or
Another area of concern is left unaddressed
by local government – renovated drainage
systems. In the city of Lumberton residents said
that they don’t believe the city was prepared
for Hurricane Matthew and that there was little
changed in preparation for Florence.
“I can recall…driving around my neighborhood,
watching the water rise, thinking this can’t
happen again,” said James Bass, director of the
Givens Performing Arts Center at the University
of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Many residents claim that they have yet to
receive any help from FEMA after applying.
In some cases, applicants were simply denied
while in other cases the applicants were given
insubstantial amounts of money to make a lasting
difference in their situation. Another issue with
FEMA is the inconsistency with who is accepted
and who is denied. Many claim that those in
better financial positions and who suffered less
from the storm are often given assistance priority
over poorer, more needing applicants.
“They denied me, because I got help with
the first flood…but I know people that they
helped with Matthew and also helped them with
[Hurricane Florence]” said Urshula Locklear, a
resident of Pembroke whose trailer was damaged
by both Hurricanes Matthew and Florence.
BreAnna Branch, Program Director for
Communities in Schools of Robeson County,
saw a need and filled it. Branch helped get the
community of Lumberton involved in the relief
effort by organizing groups of students from the
University of North Carolina at Pembroke and
providing resources for middle schoolers whose
families were impacted by the storm.
Branch stated “[The] Local community getting
things done and mobilizing immediately…Our
area knows our area,” on what matters most.
Members of the nearby University of North
Carolina at Pembroke also came to the aid of
those devastated by Hurricane Florence.
“I’m from the west coast so I never realized
how much damage water could do,” said
Michael Perez, a business marketing major
who attends the University of North Carolina at
Perez, after seeing the destruction that Florence
wreaked on the community raised over $3,000
for the relief effort. “It’s a problem that a lot of
people who aren’t from here don’t understand.
When I showed them the pictures of the houses
we were helping at they were happy to help.”