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Overwhelmed by the Hurricane Matthew, rural village awaits Florence

Nichole Worley looks out from her home in Lumberton, N. C., Friday, Sept. 14, 2018, as regent of the Hurricane Florence and threaten the neighborhood with floods. Two years ago, Worley’s house, and most of the houses around her, took in water up to the eaves during the Hurricane Matthew. “I don’t think we can stand another,” she says. “I can’t do this again.” (AP Photo/David Goldman)

LUMBERTON, N. C. – She takes a break from transporting rugs, and family heirlooms into the attic to look out of the front door and watch the rain and rain and rain more.

Nichole Worley, studies the house on the other side of the street, abandoned, and boarded up, and the creek, just behind it that made it that way. It jumped its banks during Hurricane Matthew two years ago, who drowned in her neighborhood, one of the poorest communities in one of the poorest counties in North Carolina.

Half of her neighbours never came back. Now she’s watching the rain pound down again, afraid the other half may flee and not return.

“I can’t go through this again,” she says, wondering what little Lumberton and 21,000 souls to deserve all of this and how much more a city can take.

As Hurricane Florence roars on the Carolina coast, in her city, 70 km from the sea is once again under that worries authorities the most.

Forecasters warn rain she pours for days and the Wood River, which runs across the middle of the city will continue to rise and likely to spill again. The flooding can be as bad as two years ago, flooded entire neighborhoods, and the major highways. People were rescued from the rooftops. Worley’s house, and most of the people around her, took in water up to the eaves.

“I don’t think we can stand another,” she says. “I can’t do this again.”

Lumberton, ever the backbone of America’s textile manufacturing economy, has long been abused by a drumbeat of bad news.

First it was the withering of the blue-collar economy, which plunged many rural communities such as those in poverty. The largest employer here, a Converse shoe plant in service of 3,000, shutters. Other factories and mills closed, too. The unemployment rate shot up, and now 70 percent of the county’s children live in poverty.

Then came the Hurricane Matthew.

“If you are me three years ago that there was a biblical flood in Lumberton, I would not have believed it,” said Donnie Douglas, editor-in-chief of the local newspaper, the Robesonian. He took donuts to a staff meeting a few days ago, telling employees, he only brings the treats for a once-in-a-lifetime flood. Now he is brought donuts twice in two years. “I think that we need to build an ark.”

His newspaper, on Friday reported the Wood River was expected to rise to 24 feet by Sunday, well above his position and be in line with what has been achieved during Matthew.

“The people are tired,” Douglas says. “I’m tired. Our community has been swatted around.”

He points to hopeful signs that this storm may not be as devastating as The river is lower than when the rain came in 2016, so there’s optimism may remain in the banks. Emergency shelters filled quickly, an indication that the people should take this storm more seriously. The national Guard and the employees of the municipality of stacked 5,000 sandbags under an overpass of the interstate Friday afternoon, in the vicinity of water swept into the city in 2016; ordinary citizens braved the rain and the wind and falling trees to help.

But even if the city avoids a catastrophe, the threat of this and the days of waiting are caused by residents to relive the nightmare, Douglas says. Lumberton is in the Bible Belt, where many believe that God will give them only as much as they can handle, and Douglas is certainly a second disaster happened that the faith for many.

“The province of joint is traumatized by what happened,” he says. “And what might happen.”

Alexis Haggins at first thought that they would remain in the apartment that she shares with two friends in a low-lying area destroyed in 2016. The elementary school around the corner was considered a total loss, shuttered, and now sits abandoned. Many of the houses remain vacant and boarded up.

But she couldn’t stop reliving that terrible day, when Matthew the floods came. She was driving then all of a sudden the water was up to her windows and the car started. Haggins jumped out and took off on foot. She was struck by falling branches and pelting rain. Power lines fell around her, and she was sure she would be electrocuted. The mud sucked her shoes, so she walked miles on bare feet until her soles were so swollen that she could hardly stand for days.

On Friday, she felt panic bubbling up. She introduced herself again to her waist in the water, for fear of certain death. “If I would have to walk away from this house, and in a flood I would probably just drop on my knees and starts to cry,” she says. “I can’t do it again. I can’t do it. I would just give up.”

So she and her two roommates, Da-Rosh Wimbush and Shewanna Lewis, started frantically packing for a last-minute evacuation to Charlotte. Lewis, a mother of two toddlers, also lost everything in Matthew. They moved together to try to rebuild their lives.

In most disasters, the poor suffer disproportionately, and it is no different here. The districts are struggling with the rebuilding efforts after Matthew are the same districts most at risk of flooding again. Haggins was barely getting by back then, crashing with friends. After the water receeded, she tried to go collect the little she had of her friends in the houses, but they would be all flooded and everything they had in the world was gone.

“I had to start from the bottom again,” Haggins says. “And I was already on the bottom, so I’m lower than the bottom.”

“It’s terrible,” Lewis agrees. “I can’t afford to lose anything else.”

The women pack the few belongings that fit into the car, piling everything on the top of a bunk bed, and sheets, and the head of Charlotte — praying for the best.

In the near, Nichole Worley, decide at what point they are willing to depart not, until the flood reached the bolts on the wheels of her car in the driveway.

She’s watching the rain, and it reminds her of the day that two years ago, when they finally fled. Her mother had congestive heart failure and was on dialysis; she was panting and choking. The power for days. They realized that they could not wait any longer, so Worley, her husband and her mother in the car and tried to make it through the flood.

She stuck her arm out the window and felt the water around them. They somehow made it over a collapsing bridge to the hospital, and just in time. The doctors said that her mother would have died in a few minutes.

“God must have been on our side,” she says.

They eventually return to an unlivable house. Her husband borrowed against his 401(k) to build and replace what they had lost. Her mother died months later, and now her house is filled with her mother’s things, that they can’t bear the thought of losing. So her nieces and nephews, waiting for Florence in her house, help her carry each piece one-by-one to the attic, in the event that the water reached the wheels, and they have to go.

Worley and her husband have talked for years about leaving Lumberton. She almost didn’t come back after the Hurricane Matthew. So many of her neighbors stayed away, their homes boarded up, this neighborhood she’s known all her life suddenly felt foreign and unfamiliar.

They worry if it floods again, it could just disappear.

So, she stood at the door, looking out into the water.

“The less I see,” she says, “the happier I am.”

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Follow Claire Galofaro on Twitter https://twitter.com/clairegalofaro

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For the latest news on Hurricane Florence, visit https://www.apnews.com/tag/Hurricanes

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