FORT BRAGG, North Carolina — Soldiers continue to help evacuate residents in flood-ravaged communities along North Carolina’s coastal plains days after Hurricane Florence made landfall.
Army personnel have rescued a total of 372 residents and evacuated another 47 in both North and South Carolina, while more than 9,000 Soldiers are supporting the hurricane relief efforts.
The National Guard conducted about 125 rescue missions alone on Tuesday, said Lt. Col. Matt DeVivo, North Carolina National Guard public affairs officer. He said water levels continue to stay at dangerously high levels and in some areas have even risen.
DeVivo said he expects the National Guard to continue operations for at least the next 72 hours and possibly through the weekend. More than 3,100 North Carolina Guardsmen still remain engaged in rescue operations, along with about 350 Guardsmen from neighboring states.
“We’re not going anywhere anytime soon,” DeVivo said. “Until we know the rivers have crested and the waters start to recede and communities can try to get back to some semblance of normalcy. Thousands have been displaced. And it’s going to be a challenge, but we’re ready to support the state well after the waters have receded.”
National Guard helicopters, working in conjunction with state and federal agencies, have delivered more than 61,000 pounds of relief supplies.
“I’m very impressed with the states — both South Carolina and North Carolina; they have responded and pushed forward and were proactive,” said Lt. Gen. Timothy Kadavy, Army National Guard director. “They had Soldiers. They had High-Water Vehicles. They had aircraft out and ready to respond. They (were) ready to do whatever they were asked to do by their governors and local communities.”
The hurricane’s effects were less severe in South Carolina, but residents in the northern section of the state also experienced heavy flooding. Eight people died due to the high waters or fallen trees.
Guard members are still taking part in search and rescue missions in both states and have been responding to high-water emergencies — residents trapped in stalled vehicles or stranded in flooded areas.
“We’ve dealt with this before, but not at these record levels,” said Maj. Gen. Bob Livingston, adjutant general of the South Carolina National Guard. “(Florence) slowed down and picked up a tremendous amount of water. The winds dropped dramatically.”
Livingston lauded the efforts of the South Carolina Guard, which began evacuations early on the morning of Sept. 11.
“Difficult conditions to work under,” Livingston said. “But it’s amazing; they’ve got smiles and continue to drive on.”
Members of the National Guard from as far as Illinois, Virginia and Tennessee helped with relief efforts as communities along the coastal plains were swamped with flooding and power outages.
Soldiers in tactical vehicles have been rescuing displaced residents in waist-high water.
U.S. Army North has been helping coordinate relief efforts from forward command posts in Raleigh, North Carolina and Columbia, South Carolina. The command provided 80 high-wheeled tactical vehicles, along with 60 palletized load trucks for transporting supplies.
According to a U.S. Northern Command news release, U.S. Army North Commander Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan has been named USNORTHCOM’s lead component commander and will serve as the Joint Force Land Component commander.
Multi-component task forces faced the difficult challenge of navigating safe routes through flooded areas at night.
“The waters are moving so rapidly and there’s so much water,” said Col. Ed Hayes, Task Force 51 operations officer. “You could plan a route, and all of a sudden, that road is blocked off.”
The Army Corps of Engineers installed power generators at locations throughout North Carolina. Soldiers from the 249th Engineering Battalion out of Fort Belvoir, Virginia, installed power at a storm shelter in Clayton, North Carolina; at Vidant Duplin Hospital in Kenansville; Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro; and the Rayford Waste and Water treatment facility in Whiteville, North Carolina.
DeVivo said the National Guard remains committed to the residents in affected communities.
“(The hurricane) is nothing our state can’t overcome,” he said. “It was challenging, but it’s not over by any means.”