Former North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt served four terms as the state's top executive and oversaw the response during some of the worst hurricanes and floods in North Carolina history.
Today he and his wife, Carolyn, are hunkered down at their Wilson County Farm along I-95 as they wait for Hurricane Florence. Governor Hunt spoke with WUNC's Jeff Tiberii and shared some thoughts about preparing and recovering from a storm.
This transcription of the interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Which of the storms was the worst during your time in office (1977-1985 and 1993-2001)?
There’s so many to pick from, and I can’t even remember all the names of them. I guess Floyd. Hurricane Floyd stands out as the worst, which was right at the end of my term.
Floyd came in with maybe the biggest rainmaker we’ve ever had. We had tremendous flooding. People will remember the pictures of the water flowing into a large hole over in Rocky Mount. Everything was covered over in Eastern North Carolina, including the airport in Greenville. The caskets came out of the ground over in Trenton, North Carolina. It stopped traffic on the interstate highways.
If Governor Cooper were to call you today and ask what mistakes he should make sure not to commit, what would you tell him?
First thing you want to do is prepare people, warn them. The second thing you want to do is to have the shelters open, to have people ready to get the highways out, to do the recovery work. Then, when it hits, you’ve got to be prepared to rescue people. Some of them are going to be in danger right then, and many of them may well be killed or be very much in harm’s way. So you’ve got to be ready to rescue them and pull them out of that dangerous situation.
Then you start that long, long recovery process. Some of it you have to do immediately after the storm passes, other parts of it take months and perhaps years.
Did you sleep very much during these storms?
No, I did not. I was constantly receiving information, giving orders, and getting more information coming in during the night. You’ve got to be constantly on top of things, in command and ready to go.
I was all over the state during these events, or all over the impacted areas up and down the coast. Those scenes are seared in my memory – the losses and the damage, but also great stories of courageous people helping each other recover during 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 Southern Springs, in Wayne County, you’d have people stay involved for months and even for years, helping recover and restore their homes after they’d been flooded. They had try to tear down the inside of part of the house and maybe rebuild it, and you just have to stick with that. That is the part that is not glamorous, and that you will not be talking about on your news programs.
It takes months and years to recover from bad hurricanes. I hope and pray that this one won’t be that bad, but it well could be, 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.
WUNC reporter Liz Schlemmer contributed to this report.