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Rudi Kiefer: Hurricane’s aftermath shows the destructive power of storms
Rudi Kiefer
Flooding from hurricane Florence separated my former home town of Wilmington, North Carolina, from the rest of the world. One has to experience the aftermath of a storm to gain an appreciation of how nasty it gets.

We got a taste of it in 1996. Tropical storm Arthur opened the season on June 20 with heavy rains and wind on the North Carolina coast. Hurricane Bertha followed on July 12, making landfall just a few miles from the area where Florence hit this year.

Even though Bertha had weakened to category 1 status, her 90 mph winds caused building damage and a great deal of tree debris all over the city. Mounds of branches and trash graced every street for weeks. Electric power was out in most neighborhoods, and even after it was restored, outages occurred daily. Residents were warned about shady contractors, who swarmed into town in battered pickup trucks, promising roof repairs and collecting down payments but delivering only substandard work or no work at all.

As the debris piles diminished slowly through summer, a new threat approached from the Caribbean. Hurricane Fran made landfall in the same place as Bertha, again as a weak hurricane but with an astonishing amount of destruction. Area flooding and wind damage caused the trash mounds, some still around from Bertha, to build to full height again.

Food and gas were difficult to find among the boarded-up stores. Classes at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington were at a standstill. The National Guard and units sent by the Charleston Police had to maintain public or-der.

Wilmington is in a difficult geographic location. The flat coast curves out into the Atlantic Ocean at Cape Fear. This puts it in the path of passing storms and places the ocean to the south as well as east of the city. To the west, U.S. 76 crosses swampland that floods easily. The only other exit away from the coast is Interstate 40 going north, but that highway is surrounded by low-lying floodplains too. Those are currently under water. So are many streets in town, elevated just a few feet above ocean level.

There aren’t thousands of residents stranded in a football dome, like in New Orleans after Katrina 2005. But Wilmington, cut off on all sides by water, deserves massive help from its Georgia neighbors anyway.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at

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