Yorkers on Carolinas after Matthew: 'It was scary'
Chris Weidenhammer is experiencing a bit of deja vu. About this time last year, the Fairview Township resident and fire chief, who also serves as regional disaster officer for the Red Cross of Central Pennsylvania, was situated in Columbia, South Carolina, assisting those affected by the flooding.
Now Weidenhammer is back in the Red Cross headquarters in Columbia, this time helping those affected by Hurricane Matthew.
South Carolina: Weidenhammer helps manage distribution of resources to areas affected by the storm, and Wednesday he was sent to South Carolina, before Matthew made landfall.
“(Saturday) night, we had about 5,100 people in shelters, just to give some perspective,” Weidenhammer said Sunday night.
The hurricane hit the area late night Friday and lasted into Saturday evening, he said. Weidenhammer said he had to open up the headquarters early Saturday morning.
“It was scary driving in, to be perfectly honest,” he said.
He said he saw torrential rain and wind as well as many traffic lights without power.
"There were trees, tree limbs everywhere. It was dicey for a while," he said.
Weidenhammer said the headquarters lost power for two to three hours during the hurricane.
"I think the number is around 550,000 without power currently," he said Sunday night.
He said the main concern was the flooding in some parts of the state.
"Some of the rivers are just starting to crest or will be cresting shortly,” Weidenhammer said.
North Carolina: In North Carolina, John Joyce, former crime reporter for The York Dispatch, was dealing with more damage than South Carolina seemed to get. Joyce, the city editor for the Goldsboro News-Argus, lives in Goldsboro, which is in eastern North Carolina.
“We’ve had record flooding, we got about 16 inches of rain overnight, which caused more flooding than they had in Hurricane Floyd in 1999," he said. "Up until that point, that was the historic benchmark.”
“The amount of rainfall, the amount of flooding, the amount of people displaced, shattered that record,” Joyce said.
He said the area had gotten substantial rain for roughly 10 days before Matthew hit, and because of that, the Category 1 hurricane did more damage than anticipated.
“The storm came in (Saturday) afternoon, probably around 2 o'clock and lingered well into the night, dropped about 16 inches of rain,” he said. The area is experiencing flooding, and he said it could get worse.
Joyce said once the Neuse River reaches flood stage, the dams are opened to relieve pressure, and the water then could cause more flooding in low-lying communities.
"The next two or three days could be worse," he said, adding that those areas were under mandatory evacuation.
Joyce said he didn't get power restored until around 7 p.m. Sunday, nearly 24 hours after it went out.
On Sunday, Joyce did not know the number of people in his community evacuated because of the hurricane, but he estimated it was high.
“A hard number has not been fixed, but we’re talking a couple thousand,” Joyce said.
Response: Weidenhammer said Sunday that Red Cross teams are looking at the damage from the hurricane in South Carolina to determine what comes next.
“We’re just starting to get out there on the street,” he said.
"It looks like it could be quite substantial," he said of the damage.
Weidenhammer said the organization will get out mobile feeding vehicles, as well as supplies for those who need it, within the next week or so.
Weidenhammer noted that this experience in South Carolina was different from last year's. Because the coverage area of Hurricane Matthew was so large, the volunteers and resources were spread out. He said now that the hurricane has passed, more volunteers have been able to make their way to the area. He estimated about 700 staff and volunteers were in South Carolina on Sunday.
On Sunday night, Dan Tobin, regional director of marketing and communications for the Red Cross of Central Pennsylvania, said there were 13,400 people who used Red Cross shelters set up in the five states affected by the hurricane. In North Carolina, 80 shelters were set up, with more than 4,000 people using them. In South Carolina, 61 shelters were set up, with more than 4,500 people making use of them.
In North Carolina, Joyce said a lot of the shelters are being operated by the North Carolina Branch of the Red Cross. Joyce also noted that a lot of neighbors were helping each other out in the aftermath of Matthew.
"It's just a muddy, wet, mess," said Joyce, describing the conditions.
— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at email@example.com or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.