Log in Newsletter


By Catherine Pritchard

The Person Street bridge isn’t usually a sight-seeing destination.

But it drew crowds for a few days in September in the wake of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Florence. The slow-moving storm dumped an estimated 8 trillion gallons of rain on North Carolina and lots of that water poured into the Cape Fear River, which rose and rose. And then rose some more.

On September 19, three days after the last bit of rainfall, the river crested at 61.58 feet. That was nearly 27 feet above its flood stage – and 43 feet above the level it would drop to over the next seven days. On September 19, the Cape Fear pushed against the railroad bridge that usually soars far above it. River-borne debris stacked up against that bridge like a beaver dam. To its right and its left, the river reached far past its usual boundaries, seeping into woodlands and nearby businesses.

It was an astonishing and sobering sight and the Person Street bridge was the ideal place to take it in. People drove to the area and parked nearby, then walked onto the bridge for a gander at the situation. Or they drove across slowly so they could get a good look and maybe snap a picture or take a video with their phone. Or they just plain stopped their vehicle on the bridge for a couple of seconds or so to absorb the fact of all that water.

The river had a lot more water in it than it did two years ago, when it topped off at 58.94 feet after Hurricane Matthew.

But since Florence’s rain fell over several days and because it hadn’t been preceded by other days of heavy rain, downtown Fayetteville didn’t turn into a bathtub the way it did with Matthew. Cross Creek, usually a gentle stream, did become a wide and fast-moving river for a while, washing over park benches, roadways and landscaping only recently restored from Matthew’s ravages. But it dropped relatively quickly even as the Cape Fear kept rising and, unlike with Matthew, didn’t come close to flooding the basement of the headquarters library or the Systel building or Cross Creek park.

Make no mistake, though: Florence was horrific. Three dozen deaths in North Carolina alone are blamed on the storm, including three in Fayetteville and Cumberland County. Damage from the storm’s flooding and high winds will reach into the many billions of dollars. For a time, so many roads were closed, including Interstates 95 and 40, that out-of-state drivers making trips that would ordinarily pass through North Carolina were advised to avoid the state entirely.

Recovery and repairs both in this area and elsewhere will take years.

Agencies, organizations, businesses and individuals have stepped up to help. Churches have organized groups to help clean up storm debris, repair homes and provide other help. In addition to shelters opened around the area by local government, Manna Church sheltered and fed hundreds of people displaced by Florence at its Cliffdale location. Several restaurants provided meals at different locations for storm victims and helpers. Organizations including the Salvation Army, Fayetteville Urban Ministry, the Red Cross and the Second Harvest Food Bank of Southeast North Carolina, mounted hurricane relief efforts.

Several grocery stores provided help with supplies. The Publix supermarket in Fayetteville even helped keep Bladen County Hospital’s emergency department operating during the storm by providing it with a working generator after two generators at the hospital failed.

Help has come from some celebrities. Reality TV star and entrepreneur Bethenny Frankel, who has a program to help women and families in crisis situations, brought toys and cash gift cards to hurricane victims at the Manna Church shelter.

Rapper J. Cole’s nonprofit Dreamville Foundation said it will offer food and temporary housing options for hurricane victims. Cole, a Fayetteville native, has also rescheduled his inaugural Dreamville Festival, which had been set for September 15 in Raleigh, to April 6. The concert event is now intended to benefit hurricane victims in the Carolinas.

President Trump promised the full support of the federal government when he visited the state on September 19.

Help has come from countless people and will be needed from countless more.

CumberlandStrong.com, a website created by the Cumberland Disaster Recovery Coalition, provides information about ways to help, including donating money or items and volunteering.

For example, the Cumberland Community Foundation has created the Hurricane Florence Recovery and Relief Fund and said the first $50,000 in gifts would be matched half by the Fayetteville New Car Dealers Association and half by the foundation itself.

CumberlandStrong.com also offers information about where hurricane victims can turn if they need help.

Governor Roy Cooper told Trump that while Florence was both epic and disastrous for North Carolina, “I know that we can come back stronger than ever.”