As Hurricane Florence unleashes a deluge upon North Carolina, the city of New Bern has found itself inundated with floodwater, forcing hundreds of residents to call for help.
According to Colleen Roberts, a spokeswoman for the city, 150 people were waiting to be rescued Friday morning after about 200 were rescued overnight.
“WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU,” a tweet from the city overnight said. “You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU.”
According to CNN meteorologists, as of early Friday morning, New Bern had already seen more than 10 feet of storm surge and more than 7 inches of rainfall.
New Bern, home to approximately 30,000 people, sits about 37 miles northeast of Jacksonville, North Carolina, on the banks of the Neuse River. On Thursday, a CNN team in the area watched as the water crested over the edge of the river and flooded Union Point Park in a matter of hours.
New Bern resident Peggy Perry told CNN she and three relatives were trapped inside her home early Friday.
“In a matter of seconds, my house was flooded up to the waist, and now it is to the chest,” she said. “We are stuck in the attic.”
“We have been up here for like three or four hours,” Perry added, “and there’s no windows up here in the attic, so I put a light in the window so they would know someone’s here.”
Roberts said rescuers were facing very challenging conditions, but assured residents help was on the way.
“We tell them to remain calm, not to panic, we will rescue them,” Roberts said. “Again, we’re having to be strategic about it.”
Volunteers helping conduct rescues
The storm surge had decreased to about 8 feet later Friday morning, Roberts said, but that was mostly attributed to changes in the Neuse River’s tide.
“And when the tide comes back up around noon, we will be inundated with additional storm surge,” she said. “So we really have a new hustle this morning to get the rest of those 150 people out.”
According to Roberts, citizen volunteers with their own boats had offered to help the city coordinate rescues.
“We are not turning away that help,” she said.
Among those volunteers was the Cajun Navy, a volunteer rescue organization formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Organizer Clyde Cain, told CNN the Cajun Navy was staged in New Bern and had received more than 500 calls for assistance.
Amber Parker, a spokeswoman for Craven County, where New Bern is located, told CNN early Friday morning the county had already logged more than 100 service calls from residents trapped on their roofs or in their cars.
The county had been conducting water rescues since Thursday, Parker said.
Local news station forced to evacuate
Employees at CNN affiliate WCTI had to flee their newsroom in New Bern on Thursday night after floodwater began streaming into the building.
“The building has been evacuated,” meteorologist Donnie Cox told viewers on air. “Just so that you know, we are staying here to keep you up to date.”
WCTI anchor Valentina Wilson began streaming on Facebook Live to tell viewers the employees were on their way to a safe location, while Cox continued working.
“If you’re at home, please just heed the warnings, people,” Wilson pleaded with viewers. “Just stay indoors, be safe, continue to pray and somehow we will all get through this together.”
‘It’s just bad’
Ariel Heath broadcast on Facebook Live Friday morning to share footage of the situation in the small town of James City, just south of New Bern.
She pointed her phone out the window on the second floor of a building showing the property covered in water, littered by downed trees. A short distance away a trailer can be seen halfway overturned. Car alarms can be heard blaring in the distance throughout the video.
Oil had mixed with the floodwater, Heath said, and she described an overwhelming scent of gasoline as she ventured downstairs.
“Oh God,” she said. “All right, this is gross.”
The odor soon becomes so strong it forces her back upstairs to continue filming.
“We lost all of our cars last night,” Heath told her viewers, “because the water was above the headlights, even on our SUVs.”
“Last night there was water over the dead bolt locks on the doors,” Heath told CNN. “The water has gone down quite a bit.”
“We know water was inside houses, cars had water over the headlights,” she continued. “It’s just bad — winds are still really high.”