As Florence approached the shoreline, it became clear by Sept. 11 that her target would be Cape Fear. That’s the triangular area where the Cape Fear River meets the ocean near Southport. Close by are popular beach towns like Kure (pronounced like “curry”) Beach, Carolina Beach, and the Fort Fisher National Historic Site. Above Wilmington, the Northeast Cape Fear River joins the Cape Fear. East of the city, Wrightsville Beach is a barrier island filled with homes, condos and hotels.
On Sept. 14, Florence hit Wrightsville Beach dead-on. The storm’s path was similar to 1996 hurricane Fran. Living in Wilmington at that time, we sat through it, listening to 115 mph winds pounding the house and watching flying trees through slots I had made in the plywood boards protecting the windows. Pine cones were hitting the ground like cannonballs, penetrating a foot deep.
But Fran didn’t cause the major flooding that hurricane Floyd later brought to the state’s coastal plain in 1999. This year, Florence repeated Floyd’s pattern with extreme rain and a storm surge driving water up the Northeast Cape Fear River.
North of Wilmington, some areas in Pender County are particularly vulnerable. The town of Burgaw, elevation 48 feet, isn’t near the ocean. But neighborhoods next to the Northeast Cape Fear took the brunt of the river’s floodwaters.
River Bend Subdivision, sandwiched between the Holly Shelter Swamp and the Angola Swamp, was known to be flood prone ever since it first sat under water in August 1992. After Florence, local media reported that even raised houses, built on stilts 4 feet above the ground, were flooded 5 feet up the first floor.
Nearby, Holland’s Shelter Creek Restaurant was a famous landmark. The structure sat on the creek’s bank and partly over the water until Florence’s enormous flood waves ripped it off its foundation and destroyed it.
Now, in November, people are still clearing out debris from devastated homes. Residents of Burgaw and its surroundings in Pender County continue to be dependent on volunteer help and donations. The Wilmington Star-News quoted a resident saying “don’t ask someone what they need — we have nothing. Take them a casserole.”
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 gainesvilletimes.com.