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Cleaning Up After Irene

Powerlines down in Pamlico County
Dave DeWitt

People all across eastern North Carolina are cleaning up and drying out after Hurricane Irene. Damage ranged from a new inlet on Highway 12 on the Outer Banks to downed trees across the coastal plain. Among the hardest hit areas were Carteret, Craven, and Pamlico Counties, near New Bern and Morehead City. Irene made its initial landfall there as a furious category one hurricane and left a trail of destruction.

David Daniels is standing knee-deep in water and trying to connect his generator to the circuit breaker on the side of his shotgun-style house outside Bayboro.

He looks a little rough, but OK. He’s lived here five years, and on the advice of neighbors, he stayed through Irene.

David Daniels: "There was a point I was hoping my wife would leave. She wouldn’t. I don’t know that we’d ever do this again. We had plenty of warning. All the predictions came true. We just didn’t believe it would be this bad, to be honest with you."

It was that bad, and Daniels is still surveying all the damage to his small farm. He points to a water line near the back door.

Daniels: "Yeah this where we’re standing now was probably three feet at the height of the storm."

And then he walks through the two feet of water that still stands in his yard, toward the barn and the wooden carport. Both are still standing.

Daniels: "This is an old Vietnam era jeep, It was up to the windshield. It’s a lot lower back here. We’ve got a tree broken here that’s getting ready to fall. I’m actually quite pleased because what I saw at the height of the storm, I thought it was going to be a lot worse."

It got bad enough that Daniels moved his burrow, Pepe, into the kitchen during the lull when the eye passed over.

DeWitt:" Is that the first time he’s ever been in the house?"

Daniels: "That’s the first time, and the last time, hopefully."

Daniels keeps saying how lucky he was. A 60-foot pecan tree just a few feet from the side of the house is battered, but still standing.

A few miles away, in Arapahoe, Kenny Lupshun wasn’t so lucky. He climbs off of a backhoe and points at the massive pine tree that has fallen down…

Kenny Lupshun: "Fell on my barn, few hundred dollars of work on my barn, we’ll be all right. Long as nobody got hurt. Fell right across my dog pens and neither one of them got hurt."

Inside the crushed pen, two rottweilers named Rocky and Black Dog run around, agitated but unhurt. Lupshun has lived in Pamlico County 20 years and he’s seen dozens of storms

Lupshun: "This is the worst one I’ve seen, for damage here."

Nearly every house and business in this area has some damage, caused by fallen trees, high water, or both. Traffic lights are out as people stream back into the area to survey their homes, causing gridlock and dangerous driving conditions.

Governor Bev Perdue toured the area, including New Bern, Morehead city, and then stopped by the Harlowe Volunteer Fire Department outside of Havelock…

Bev Perdue: "The damage is pervasive. A lot of it is structural damage today is about assessing the damages, it will probably take the week to do that all over the state and then we get busy trying to figure out how to put people’s lives back together and communities back together."

Back across the Neuse River, in Oriental, that healing is already underway. A few hours earlier, the Lou Mac Park hard on the edge of the Pamlico Sound was several feet underwater. On this Sunday morning, Pastor Keith Sexton is leading an outdoor church service – the din of generators providing a backdrop for Amazing Grace.

Sexton is wearing sunglasses and flip flops. About 2 dozen people make up the congregation on this day, sitting in a semicircle of lawn chairs – that’s a lot fewer than usual.

Sexton’s message was similar to the governor’s, if more spiritual.

Keith Sexton: "God was with us in the storm, go never promised to keep us from the storm. And now after the storm we’re going to see god in the hands and smiles and care of people and we’re going to be offering that care to others."

Those hands came in waves on Sunday. The national guard, local firefighters and police, and an army of bucket trucks worked furiously to restore power – and normalcy – to the coast and coastal plains.

For David Daniels back in Bayboro, the electricity can’t come on soon enough. It may be a while – a mile down the road – several power poles are hanging horizontal, just feet off the pavement.

After living through his first storm of the century, Daniels has a word of advice for others who may stay choose to through the next one.

Daniels: "Well, tell your listeners don’t ride it out like we did. I will never do that again. That was bad. I’ll tell you what, I can’t believe that old house is still standing."

Dave DeWitt is WUNC's Supervising Editor for Politics and Education. As an editor, reporter, and producer he's covered politics, environment, education, sports, and a wide range of other topics.
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