See Thank You pages A6-A7
Hundreds of county and city employees, emergency personnel and power linemen have worked night and day for the last week in an effort to assist county residents return to as much of a normal life as possible.
Last week, as Hurricane Matthew began to sweep across the eastern part of North Carolina, while many residents were seeking shelter or higher ground, these men and women left the safety of their homes and headed straight into the danger of the storm.
“It is difficult to accurately depict the volume of man-hours spent in Hurricane Matthew response,” Sampson County assistant county manager Susan Holder said. “Of course, we started more than a week ago in preparation for the event – preparing and staging equipment, participating in conference calls, alerting the public to potential hazards.”
Hurricane Matthew left behind over a foot of rain in many areas of Sampson, causing numerous waterways to flood. The heavy winds brought down hundreds of trees, knocking out power to thousands of residents across the county. Despite the potential danger associated with the aftermath of the storm, the employees, EMS personnel and power company crew members threw that danger to the wind and worked long hours, in flooded and dangerous conditions, to perform water rescues and restore water and power to those most affected by the storm.
From Saturday, at the peak of the storm, to Wednesday, Holder said the 911 communications office answered nearly 2,000 calls. About half of those were directly related to the storm. That number, she said, is about double the volume of calls normally received.
“After the Emergency Operations Center became active on Friday, we utilized staff 24/7,” Holder said. “Between the EOC, shelters, CRDP (Central Receiving and Distribution Point, at the Expo Center), 911 Communications, law enforcement, EMS, and miscellaneous tasks as small as emptying, cleaning and restocking shelter trailers or filling sandbags to help DOT, we had about 180 county employees engaged each 24 hour shift.”
That number, Holder said, does not include the county’s partners, such as the N.C. Forestry, the National Guard, the three Urban Search and Rescue/Swift Water Rescue teams, 18 fire departments and volunteer rescue squads.
Employees responded to calls throughout the height of the storm, staffed the EOC, answered the overflow of calls, referred calls to the N.C. DOT and utility companies, issued public statements and notices, coordinated swift water rescues, provided support services to shelters, requested and coordinated resources and continued to provide up-to-date information throughout the storm.
According to Holder, the public works staff worked hard to restore the county’s water system, so residents would have clean water.
“On Saturday evening about 8 p.m., we had lost almost our entire water system,” Holder shared. “Within 24 hours from the start of the storm, public works had recaptured our water system. These challenges were indescribable due to the fact that most of the valves were under water in ditches and roadways and we had to search to locate valves to close them. As of Thursday, we have restored service to all of our customers. We are currently working to transition from temporarily repaired to permanently repaired.”
Sampson County sheriff Jimmy Thornton has expressed his gratitude to the many men and women who worked through the storm and put other lives before their own and their families.
“These men and women have spent days away from their families to help the residents of Sampson County,” Thornton said. “Some of these men and women haven’t even had an opportunity to assess their own damages at home, but have chosen to put others first. I’m so proud of our emergency responders. They’re, without a doubt, highly-skilled professionals who are dedicated to the citizens of Sampson County.”
He urged people to share their gratitude and also stay patient — help is on the way.
“If you see a first responder, utility worker or others who are helping, I encourage you to take the time to say thank you to them,” the sheriff said. “I urge everyone to continue to be patient. We have never experienced devastation like this, but by working together we will overcome.”
Clinton City manager Shawn Purvis could only reiterate Thornton’s words, offering his appreciation to not only the city’s staff, but the many who worked throughout the county, placing themselves in many dangerous situations to help others.
“It’s hard find words strong enough to express how proud of and thankful I am for the amazing team we have working for the city,” Purvis noted. “Before, during, and after the storm, they gave up time with their families to make sure others were safe. We truly have amazing men and women working for our community and what they do is not just about their job, it’s about their genuine concern and care for the people of Clinton.”
During the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, with limited power, only a handful of businesses were open. Gas lines at local pumps were long, as were the lines at the few eating establishments and grocery stores that were open. Officers with the Clinton Police Department were not only out during Saturday’s rains and winds, but worked to keep order and peace in the days following.
“I could not have been any prouder of any group of men and women, as I was of the police officers who worked the storm,” police Chief Jay Tilley said. “There was this attitude of determination that the city was going to be safe no matter what Hurricane Matthew did. It took a lot of teamwork, not just among the officers, but all the city workers to keep the community secure. It was a great sacrifice they made when they left their families for such an extended period in a very dangerous storm. It is amazing what a group of well trained and highly motivated law enforcement officers can accomplish.”
Lisa Carter, City of Clinton Director of Human Resources, was quick to offer her thanks and gratitude to the many who assisted following Matthew’s devastation.
“In the midst of disaster and devastation, you realize the true hearts of individuals,” Carter said. “Our police officers, firefighters, and public works and utilities employees have shown so much compassion and professionalism during this storm. The amount of time and effort is unmeasurable. They have made many sacrifices to make sure that our citizens have been taken care of. The City of Clinton is very grateful to have these employees as part of our organization.”
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.