After storm, cleanup requires patience, time, cooperation In stricken areas, help arrives but job is complex

Hurricane Fran

September 07, 1996|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

WILMINGTON, N.C. -- Osey Sanders knows it takes time and cooperation to pick up after a hurricane.

Sanders is a Charleston, S.C., police officer. Since 1989, when his city was ravaged by Hurricane Hugo, he has volunteered for emergency duty after hurricanes in the Virgin Islands.

He was in Homestead, Fla., after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and in Carolina Beach, N.C., after Hurricane Bertha this summer.

"Hopefully, if Charleston ever gets hit again, we'll be reciprocated in kind," he said.

Sanders was one of 40 people from Charleston who arrived in town yesterday to lend a hand as New Hanover County, North Carolina's smallest county and the hardest hit in the latest storm, struggled to get a handle on the damage.

County officials said yesterday that recovery "will take weeks."

Wilmington authorities said the city's public facilities suffered at least $5 million in damage, and a quarter of the city's residential structures were destroyed or seriously damaged.

Reknitting the fabric of the community is a complicated business that demands cooperation, not just among the county's own employees, but by residents and public safety officials across this state and its neighbors.

With 11 North Carolina counties seriously affected by the storm, generators and other resources are having to be imported from the state's western counties.

Convoys of power line and tree service trucks arrived from all over the South to help, some from as far away as Mobile, Ala.

An offer of help even came in yesterday from Clay Stamp, emergency management director in Ocean City, Md.

Stamp offered to send a self-sufficient team of 12 Ocean City public works employees to assist the beach communities with the cleanup -- -- at no charge. He was referred to state emergency management coordinators.

Officer Sanders was posted yesterday at the foot of the FTC drawbridge leading from the mainland to Wrightsville Beach.

The barrier island community sustained serious wind and water damage, but structural damage reportedly was comparatively minor Thursday night as Hurricane Fran boiled in from the Atlantic.

His job was to turn back worried owners who wanted to get across to their properties.

That's not going to happen for four to seven days, authorities said, because of the lack of power and water for fighting fires.

Most property owners were patient, for now. "But if this stretches out to Sunday or Monday, we might start meeting some resistance," Sanders said.

There is good reason to worry. Scattered around the bridge, high and dry, are an assortment of 35- and 45-foot sailboats, cabin cruisers, dock sections and other debris that washed up.

Dan Summers, director of emergency management for the county, yesterday described the damage farther south on Carolina and Kure beaches as "just slightly under what happened in Charleston under Hugo."

Familiar piers and oceanfront homes and restaurants were destroyed or suddenly at the water's edge.

Parts of Carolina Beach remained flooded, or under several feet of sand, even as yesterday's skies cleared.

On Kure Beach, Summers told the county commissioners, "I don't see anything down there that's a usable dwelling without an engineering study."

On the bright side, he said, structures built in accordance with revised building codes "did extremely well."

"It made all the difference in the world," he said.

Putting the place back together will be extraordinarily difficult.

Fire, building and public safety officials said residents cannot be allowed back onto the islands until power lines are secured.

"When we start kicking power on, we know we'll have some fires," said Phil Kouwe, the county's fire service administrator.

That can't be permitted until the county has water pressure in the hydrants. And that won't happen until there is electricity.

Out by the Wrightsville Beach drawbridge, meanwhile, Officer Osey Sanders continued to wave off beach residents.

He was firm but sympathetic. His sister lives just a few miles from the bridge.

"I understand she lost everything she had last night to flood waters that came up to her house on the mainland side of Greenville Sound. She had to get out," he said.

She and her 16-year-old daughter were safe, he said.

"But I haven't been able to reach her by phone or get over there."

Pub Date: 9/07/96

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