Helping their coastal counterparts

City, county employees lend a hand

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In the wake of Hurricane Florence, coastal communities were plagued with too many problems and too few workers, but Wilson’s city and county governments answered the call for help.

“Wilson has a long history of providing assistance to other cities and towns that are in need,” said Wilson City Manager Grant Goings. “It’s just the right thing to do.”

In fact, the call for help from staff in a variety of counties started coming in just hours after the hurricane made landfall on Sept. 14. The Wilson County Sheriff’s Office received a request that day from Brunswick County through the N.C. Sheriffs Association Statewide Disaster Assistance Network. Chief of Staff Wanda Samuel said 10 deputies were deployed the morning of Saturday, Sept. 15, but flooding forced them to turn around in Kenansville.

The floodwater didn’t deter local deputies from wanting to pitch in, and on Tuesday, 14 deputies were deployed to Morehead City in Carteret County. Originally the team was set to return to Wilson on Friday, but requests for more assistance has the department arranging volunteer commitments for a second deployment of deputies.

“This has by no means decreased the coverage of protection from Wilson County,” Samuel said in a statement. “The families of the deputies as well as the deputies themselves are in high spirit. Sheriff (Calvin) Woodard personally led the contingent of deputies off to their assignment.”

The Wilson Police Department also sent four officers Tuesday to assist with law enforcement in New Bern. Wilson Energy sent crews to Laurinburg the Saturday of the storm, and the members returned to Wilson on Wednesday. Greenlight Community Broadband on Thursday sent crews to Jacksonville to help repair the city’s fiber network.

“I am particularly proud that all of our employees assisting others have volunteered to do so. They are going into very difficult conditions where even their own lodging can be challenging, and they are working long hours,” said Goings. “Our city is appreciated by communities across North Carolina and beyond for our efforts in these events and should Wilson ever need help in the future, they will be here for us.”

Four building inspectors deployed on Wednesday with two each sent to Swansboro and New Bern to assist with damage assessment. Wilson Chief Planning and Development Officer Rodger Lentz said the three-day deployment helped the respective communities ensure buildings that had damaged utilities are safe to get back on the grid and determine whether dwellings are safe for occupancy.

“This is what neighbors do. You help each other out,” Lentz said. “We had the time and people who could go down to help. I’ve got to hand it to those that went because they were eager to volunteer to help.”

Barry Parks, the director of water resources, said staff has participated in three separate efforts to help coastal communities. Parks and five other employees on Sept. 16 headed to Jacksonville with two large diesel pumps.

“Jacksonville’s largest wastewater pump station had no power, and the generator they had failed after a couple days,” he said. “We took down emergency pumps and all the piping to do an emergency connection from the wet well to the main.”

It was a long day for the Wilson crews, hitting the road early in the morning and arriving home after midnight. The pump was left because even though the station has had power restored, the equipment will serve as a backup. On Tuesday, Parks said two employees hit the road back to Jacksonville because one of the city’s large stations was without power, and they were unsure how long it would be down. The crews took down a generator, which was installed by Jacksonville staff to avoid untreated wastewater contaminating the river.

And on Thursday, seven Wilson employees joined crews from Raleigh and Greenville to help Onslow County.

“Three different teams will replace water lines and work to restore service,” Parks said. “Our group will be primarily on North Topsail Island focusing on water service there.”

It is unclear how long the work will take, and Parks said his staff is prepared to answer additional requests as they arise.

“Helping others is a wonderful thing to do that shows the good side of human nature rather than just the bad side,” Parks said.

Even Goings is pitching in to help his counterparts in other communities. He serves as the president of the N.C. City and County Management Association, which launched a network in the wake of the storm to help managers of affected cities and counties request resources.

“The association realized that its members will continue to face weeks and months of nearly 24/7 work to rebuild their communities, so the association stepped in and created a new network to pool resources,” said Rebecca Agner, Wilson communications and marketing director. “...This level of support hasn’t been seen in decades and is more proof of Florence’s catastrophic impacts.”