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Will Seven Springs Survive After Hurricane Florence?

A view of the flooded downtown in Seven Springs, N.C., after Hurricane Florence.
Jay Price
A view of the flooded downtown in Seven Springs, N.C., after Hurricane Florence.

The town of Seven Springs is tiny, with a little more than a hundred people in the 2010 census. And it got tinier after Hurricane Matthew.

Jeremy Price, chief of the Seven Springs Volunteer Fire Department, says that’s actually a big reason the damage won’t be as bad this time.

“This town has never recovered from Matthew,” Price said. “Less homes, less businesses. The two main businesses that were here, a propane supply company, which was the largest business, they relocated. And the bank... It was our only bank in this area. They just shut that branch down.”

This town has never recovered from Matthew. Less homes, less businesses. -Jeremy Price

Wayne County’s oldest town was almost entirely flooded by Hurricane Matthew in 2016. This month Florence flooded Seven Springs for a second time.

As the water came up again, so did an unpleasant question that residents have been asking themselves for two years.

All but a couple of the 49 homes in town were badly damaged two years ago. And many residents who were evacuated didn’t come back.
Now, the restaurant that had reopened -- Mae’s -- has been flooded again. So has the post office, town hall and fire station, which serves the town and surrounding area.

Price points toward it, across a swift current running through the middle of the flooded downtown.

“We have 32 members and what this flood does is, it cut us off from half our members, on one side of the river, half on the other,” he said.

Price says there were maybe a couple of dozen people living inside the town proper before Florence. Nobody knows yet how many of those -- and which businesses -- will return.

Which leads straight to that hard question that starting coming up two years ago: Is enough of Seven Springs left for it to still be a town?

“It’s just really sad to see it go, ‘cause I’ve been here all my life,” Price said. “I don’t actually live in the town, but it’s a community and I really think this is the end of this little town. I see no reason to keep the town going with 20 residents.”

Price was standing inside what was the EMS building, which has been empty since it was flooded during Matthew.

Seven Springs Mayor Stephen Potter surveys his flooded town from the porch of his home.
Credit Jay Price / WUNC
Seven Springs Mayor Stephen Potter surveys his flooded town from the porch of his home. He raised his house house after it was flooded surging Hurricane Matthew.

You didn’t have to go too far  — just two houses down the street — to get a different opinion. But you had to do it by boat.

For a couple of days last week, volunteer firefighters have been ferrying  visitors to Mayor Stephen Potter’s house. It’s surrounded by brown water that reaches the top of the fence around his yard.

Potter is out on his porch, checking to see if the water level has started to drop yet.

“It’s receding, but it will be a slow process,” Potter said.

Potter’s house is safe. He built it up after it was damaged in Matthew. Now it’s eight feet off the ground rather than four. But not all the houses are high enough.

Those of us who are here love this town, and we're not going to give up and let it go without a fight... it's just a bump in the road and we'll deal with it. -Stephen Potter

“I think that there might be a couple of homes that the water got in that are inhabited at this time,” Potter said. “I think one may be okay. The other I’m concerned about.”

For any other town in Eastern North Carolina, just a house or two getting serious damage in a major storm might be cause for relief. But here? That’s a substantial percentage of the housing.

Potter, though, insists that Florence won’t be a fatal blow.

“We know that we’re going to deal with this,” Potter said. “We have dealt with this as long as this town has been here. This town has always had floods.”

And not just floods. Seven Springs was almost destroyed during the Civil War, then badly damaged by a fire in the 1920s. And Hurricane Floyd in 1999 flooded nearly every house in town. Then came Matthew.

Potter says if Seven Springs can survive all that, it can survive this flood, too.

“Those of us who are here love this town, and we’re not going to give up and let it go without a fight,” he said. “I’m certainly not foolish enough to say that this is not a setback. But you know, it’s just a bump in the road and we’ll deal with it. It’s just another obstacle to overcome.”

Jay Price has specialized in covering the military for nearly a decade.
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