ASSESSING THE DAMAGE
August 26, 1998
Hurricane Bonnie hit North Carolina last night with 115 mile per hour winds. The vast storm touched shore at Cape Fear. More than 16,000 people spent the night in shelters across North Carolina, some 400,000 area residents lost power. After a background report, Phil Ponce talks with North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt.
PHIL PONCE: Hurricane Bonnie hit North Carolina last night with 115 mile per hour winds. The vast storm touched shore at Cape Fear. More than 16,000 people spent the night in shelters across North Carolina, some 400,000 area residents lost power. But after hours of high winds, pounding rain, downed trees and power lines, Bonnie lost some of its punch. By late morning today the winds slowed down to about 65 miles per hour and Bonnie was downgraded to a tropical storm. But Bonnie's threat is far from over. Heavy rainfall could continue as Bonnie slowly moves up the North Carolina coast.
JAMES ADAMS, Elizabeth City Police Department: I've been here all my life, and I've never seen the water up like it is now. And the whole time I've been here it's worse than what I ever seen it.
PHIL PONCE: Residents were relieved, though, there were no early reports of injuries or deaths. Just two years ago the area was hit by back-to-back Hurricanes Berth and Fran; they caused more than thirty deaths and more than $6 billion in property damage.
RESIDENT: Well, it looks pretty good compared to the last storm. The last storm the boats were all everywhere.
PHIL PONCE: The question now: How much longer will tropical storm Bonnie linger over North Carolina?
PHIL PONCE: And here with the latest on Bonnie's impact is North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt. Governor Hunt, what can you tell us?
GOV. JIM HUNT, (D) North Carolina: Well, Phil, we've had this hurricane over us for about a day and a half now. I've never seen a hurricane linger around and keep battering an area like this one has. We do believe it's moving on toward the coast now up in our Northeast, and we believe that by about midnight tonight it will perhaps leave our shores, and we will be very, very thankful. We've had a lot of damage. You've had a good bit on your program about that tonight. We've got a lot of trees down, power lines down, a lot of flooded areas. We've had some real structural damage, a roof off of a hospital on the coast, the fire department damaged, so there's a lot of damage, but perhaps the greatest damage is going to come from the flooding to septic systems and to residences that the water is going into, and that's going to be tremendous and will come over the next week.
PHIL PONCE: So you're saying that the impact right now is not so much what happened as far as the winds are concerned but what's-what will be evolving as far as flooding is concerned. How much of your state might be affected by flooding, do you think?
GOV. JIM HUNT: Well, it certainly will be the coastal area. You saw some of that tonight. But a lot of our rivers-we had such a tremendous rain-just a little East of here we had about six inches in the rain gauges, that probably meant ten inches because a lot of it blows over. We heard that areas were going to get up to 20 inches of rain, and that means you're going to have flooding-those little tributaries will come into the larger creeks and then into the rivers, and we're going to see that go up and up and up over the next several days. We'll have residential areas that will be flooded out, and I particularly want to urge our people in North Carolina not to take chances with the floods, don't drive into a road that is flooding. Don't let your children play out in floodwaters. Over half of the deaths in a hurricane come from the flooding, and that's still ahead for us.
PHIL PONCE: Speaking of deaths, no deaths, no serious injuries so far, as far as you know?
GOV. JIM HUNT: We are so thankful, Phil. We had terrible deaths from Fran. We had great, great damage from Bertha two years ago. Our people learned from that. We had between a quarter and a half million people evacuate that coast. They came off quickly. They did it in good spirit. We had about 19,000 in shelters last night. So we've really learned to deal with this, and I commend our people who've worked so hard on it. Now we need to get everybody, of course, to pitch in and help their neighbors. We've got a hotline for people who will give the goods and services, and we're going to pitch in and do that job, and we're going to come out all right.
PHIL PONCE: Governor, how many people are still out of their homes and when can they go back?
GOV. JIM HUNT: Well, a lot of people-you know, who were in the shelters last night-probably are local folks. That was about 19,000. Some of them went back in today. We expect about 11,000 in shelters tonight. Others will go back tomorrow. I think most of them will be back tomorrow. Now we had a lot of people on the coast on our marvelous beaches who probably went home and we hope that Danielle will spare us next week and our beaches can get back in business. They are great places to vacation. But I think local folks will be back in their homes tomorrow evening.
PHIL PONCE: Danielle, of course, being the other storm that is in the works.
GOV. JIM HUNT: That's right. PHIL PONCE: Speaking of your beaches, one of the areas of concern is the outer banks; that's considered a fragile area. Any word on that?
GOV. JIM HUNT: Well, the hurricane is bearing off of that area now. We are very concerned about the large sound right back of it. The water first was pushed up to the left, to the West, and then it's going to go back to the East, and we are very concerned about what that tidal over wash will be on the outer banks. Again, we don't know that. That's in the process right now, and we hope and pray that it will not be too bad on them tonight.
PHIL PONCE: Governor, you talked about the extent of the damage in your state in 1996. Bertha and Fran caused billions of dollars of damages. Any idea where-what the range might be this time?
GOV. JIM HUNT: Phil, we just don't know that yet. Yesterday I requested federal assistance. Today-in less than 24 hours-the President responded to us. We're very grateful for that-declared us a federal disaster area-and FEMA was in here working with our people. We will establish that damage in the next couple of days. It's going to be large, but it will not be what Fran was, and we're so thankful.
PHIL PONCE: Governor, what is the practical impact of getting Federal Disaster designation? What does that mean to the average homeowner, or average businessperson?
GOV. JIM HUNT: What that means is that they can get help for the actual damage to their house; if they're put out of their homes and have to go rent a room, they can get help for that rent. They can get small business loans if their businesses are hurt. We've had a lot of damage to agriculture. And we are going to pitch in and help them as much as we can. There is one number that the folks can call for FEMA to get help with that. And we're circulating that broadly across our state.
PHIL PONCE: Governor, there are reports that a lot of people were still recovering from what happened in 1996, as far as getting their repairs and that sort of thing, and that it's a source of frustration to a lot of folks, that this comes before the results of 1996 aren't fully dealt with. Do you sense that frustration?
GOV. JIM HUNT: Well, there is some of that, Phil. We had whole areas of beach that were washed away by Fran two years ago. Those people are just beginning to build back. In some cases we had to draw the line as to where they could build so that they would not be in harm's way when they rebuilt. They're just getting back to that. We're just rebuilding some of those roads. So it's really frustrating to have this come along, but thank goodness-I don't think the winds this time completely destroyed what they were building back, so at least we're still moving ahead, and we're going to keep moving. North Carolinians are tough people, and we will help each other, and we'll come out of this.
PHIL PONCE: Governor, given some of the predictions of what Bonnie might have done, is there-do you feel a sense of relief?
GOV. JIM HUNT: Oh, listen, we are relieved, and we are thankful. This, when it started in, it was such a broad storm, you saw it on the television-it was 115 mile an hour winds, and those winds came across us. That rain battered us all this time. I don't know how we came out this well. We are just thankful. Maybe we've had a miracle here, and I hope we'll have some more.
PHIL PONCE: Governor Hunt, thank you very much.