Irene’s wrath gives way to sun in North Carolina


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As Hurricane Irene tore northward toward New York and beyond, North Carolinians awoke to a lovely, mild, sunny Sunday morning and began surveying what the storm had wrought.

In the barrier island vacation community of Atlantic Beach, local grocery store worker Grant Fisher, 64, stepped out of his rental home about 7 a.m. to check the neighborhood. He had stayed on the island, despite the warnings, popping the windows of his home open during the worst of it to keep the barometric pressure balanced between inside and out.


It seemed to have worked. The blue-gray house, just behind a larger beachfront home on the dunes, didn’t lose a window or much else, save for a rotten window sill. There were scary moments, though. At one point, Fisher said, the water crept up to the beach to the very top of the dunes.

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It was still eerily quiet Sunday morning as he walked around his neighborhood of beach cottages. Residents who had fled inland would not be allowed over the high-rise bridge for a few hours yet. He saw a few patches of siding ripped away from homes here and there, a few palm trees down. The first street off the dunes was flooded, but it looked to be about a foot deep here and there.

“They’re going to be happy when they come back,” he said.

The situation was worse in parts of New Bern, North Carolina’s former state capital, about 45 minutes north. The stately, 301-year-old city, at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers, has a history of flooding and Irene delivered as expected. Mayor Lee Bettis Sunday was asked how many homes were flooded. He didn’t have an exact number, but whatever it was, he figured it was high.

“It’s not houses,” he said, “It’s communities.”

Among the worst-hit neighborhoods was Duffyfield, a poor, historically African American area northwest of the venerable brick buildings of downtown.

Janice Spivey, 59 was in a typical conundrum. Her three-bedroom trailer at the corner of Biddle and Jarvis streets was surrounded by water on all sides. It was ankle-to-knee deep Sunday morning, and receding, but it had been higher, conspiring with the wind and the rain to keep her and her grandchildren stuck inside since Friday evening.

But Sunday was looking better in all sorts of ways. Her power switched on right around 10 a.m., and soon she expected to be able to maneuver her blue Chrysler sedan out of her driveway and get to the grocery store. As she peeked out her door, a city parks and recreation employee sloshed through what remained of the floodwaters in a big, white school bus.

The employee, who declined to give his name, said he’d driven around all day during the storm Saturday, shuttling perhaps 100 people to higher ground. He shouted over to Spivey, asking if she wanted a ride. The McDonald’s was open now, he said.

“I ain’t waiting in that line,” she said, laughing. “I’m going in there to cook.”

“Just pray for the folks ahead of us, that they survive it, too,” the driver said.

Power company trucks appeared to be just about everywhere in southeastern North Carolina. Some roared down highways. By the sides of roads, some went to work on power lines bent by the fallen branches, gingerly plucking off the limbs like the lightest of guitar strings.

By 11 a.m. about 60% of the power had been restored to New Bern, spokeswoman Colleen Roberts said. Some of the seafood restaurants on Middle Street downtown were serving up burgers and shrimp-salad sandwiches. Tryon Palace, the majestic replica of a former British governor’s home, appeared to have made it out fine, though on George Street, the beautiful block of historic homes leading to the palace’s iron gates, was a mess of downed limbs.

Everywhere residents were raking their yards. Many Sunday church services had been canceled. Mayor Bettis pulled up to City Hall a little after 11 a.m., sweaty and disheveled, dressed in boat shoes, running shorts and a paint-splattered work shirt. He had spent the morning helping neighbors, moving debris, mending fences. It was what he had planned for the rest of the day.

“We’re going to be out working,” he said. “Not sitting around in an office.”


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