In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, emergency officials from near and far continue to help residents in Sampson County.
First Sgt. David Kinlaw, of the North Carolina Highway Patrol, reported that Sampson County troopers responded to incidents related to accidents on local roads. From Saturday through Monday, Sampson troopers received a total of 150 calls for service.
“We’ve been real busy with calls for service,” Kinlaw said. “There’s people running into washouts and so forth.”
In addition to dealing with local road closures, Kinlaw said the department had to divert Interstate 95 traffic, since that was closed too.
“When they closed down I-95, a lot of people were trying to come down (U.S. 421) into Sampson County …,” he said about directing traffic and helping people find their way. “That tied up a lot of our resources. Every time we’ll have a road go under water and get closed, we’ll have to go check it out and see if we needed to close it completely.”
Some of the other closed roads keeping troopers busy included U.S. 13 and N.C. 24 towards Fayetteville.
“At one time, all the main roads were giving us problems because there was so much traffic coming into Sampson County trying to get through and we didn’t have anywhere to send them because the roads were underwater.”
Although signs and barricades were set up, a lot of motorist disregarded them and tried to cross over running water or breaches.
“You see a washout and you think I have a lane to make it,” he said. “Unless you get up there and see how much is (damaged), you don’t know if it’s safe to go across it or not.”
Many still took chances.
“Then you have to send someone in to risk their life in running water to do a swift water rescue,” he said in regards to rescue efforts.
Before Tuesday, curfews were set throughout the county for safety reasons related to dangerous road conditions. Kinlaw said the department was stretched thin, but matters are starting to get a little better. Kinlaw stressed patience when it comes to dealing with alternate routes for the recent damage.
“It’s going to take a long time for the DOT (Department of Transportation) to get these roads fixed,” he said. “They’re going to be overwhelmed for a long time. I’m sure they’ll start with the interstates first and work their way down. They’ll go interstate, U.S. Highways next and then N.C. road. It’ll be a long time before they get to the secondary roads to get the washouts fixed.”
Susan Holder, assistant manager for Sampson County, reported that DOT is considering more than 30 roads to be long-term repair issues.” There’s also short-term repairs needed too.
“We’ll be suffering that for quite some time,” Holder said.
Holder said emergency officials received about 1,900 calls for service since Saturday. That’s more than double in a typical three to four day time period.
“They are different than what we’ll normally respond to,” Holder said. “We were experiencing about 50 swift water rescue calls per day.”
The calls for water rescues are diminishing somewhat, but Holder said calls are still coming from southern Sampson County for flooding issues, but stressed that they will not diminish the needs of northern residents. She reported that several communities will be isolated for periods of time, but flood waters are starting to recede in most areas.
During and after the hurricane, Holder said every agency in Sampson County also assisted residents throughout the county by distributing supplies, water, food. Some of the assistance included local volunteer fire departments; the National Guard; swift water rescue and search teams teams from Moorsville; the Greensboro Fire Department; official from Forsyth County; and the North Carolina Forestry Service.
“The swift water rescue teams are assets that we don’t necessarily maintain,” Holder said. “So we advise the state of what we need and they send us the resources.”
Holder added that significant damage to water-sewer lines of local districts, because of the storm.
“We’re very proud that we’ve been rapidly correcting those issues,” she said. “As of today, there’s a limited number of customers that are still impacted without water.”
For Sampson County customers, a boil-water advisory underway. The water department will notify residents when it’s lifted.
It’s one of many effects of the storm. Holder said it was unprecedented on how it arrive and impacted Sampson County. A lot of had to deal with the heavy rain fall.
“We had such saturated grounds prior to this storm, the water impacted us nearly immediately,” she said about the storm which resulted in residents being isolated.
On Tuesday, local officials continued to respond to calls for help, but Holder said the largest needs was mass feedings.
“The power was out for so long, so all of their food was destroyed,” Holder said. “A number of churches have stepped up to do mass feedings.”
Organizations such as the Red Cross and the Eastern Baptist Association is helping too. Sampson is waiting to be declared a disaster relief area by federal officials.
“We have not received that yet,” Holder said. “As we move from response to recovery, but what we’ll be doing know is showing FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) the extent of our needs to be declared a disaster county.”
One holdup could be receding water levels since the storm began. Officials will travel around the county to collect information related to the damage. Holder stressed that many people have significant food and structure needs. She also added that state leaders are working hard on assisting with post-disaster food assistance needs too.
“At some point, we hope that FEMA will be here to take applications for assistance,” she said.
Additional information regarding post Hurricane Matthew assistance, tips and safety information is available online at www.sampsonnc.com
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.