Hurricane Florence: North Carolina Mayor

Sep 14, 2018
Originally published on September 14, 2018 7:48 pm
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Nearly every street is flooded today in downtown New Bern, N.C. The town sits between two rivers, the Neuse and the Trent. They quickly overflowed their banks even before Hurricane Florence made landfall. And despite a mandatory evacuation order, many people had stayed in New Bern. Rescuers have pulled more than 100 people from their homes to safer ground. Even some of the signature bear statues that dot the downtown were sent floating down city streets. Dana Outlaw is the mayor of New Bern. He's on the phone with us now. And Mayor Outlaw, can you update us on that rescue mission? How many people have been rescued? How many are still stranded, as far as you know?

DANA OUTLAW: Well, I don't have the exact figures because it changes hourly and by the minute. We have had 1,200 911 requests for the last 12 hours. That's very unusual. But the city of New Bern three days ago, when we had a really good window, we got out. We got flyers out. We Facebooked, Twittered. We did everything we could to make residents aware of how dangerous this storm was going to be - 40 inches of rain, Category 4. And so, you know, the size of it - I mean, twice the size of Hurricane Hugo. So what we've wound up doing, in the last 24 hours prior to the hurricane, is we went door to door. Our policemen - our firemen drove fire trucks with P.A. systems. And we went door to door and took city and New Bern recreation buses out and urged residents to get in the bus and get to a shelter.

CORNISH: So despite all that, what are you telling people now - people who are still waiting for help? You mentioned those more than 1,000 911 calls?

OUTLAW: Yes, help is on the way. And we have - as expeditiously as we can with the weather conditions, with the wind conditions, we have gotten water rescue teams together to go out and rescue our residents. We have - quite a few of us prior to the storm went and drove these individuals to shelters. And at the very time that we're doing this, others were sitting on the porch - not quite sure if this was the storm everybody was really talking about that it could be.

Hurricanes, as you well know, are very unpredictable. And New Bern has gotten a free pass quite a few times - that what we thought was going to be a terrible storm did not happen. So this time it did. And, you know, unfortunately, it's kind of a wake-up call that these things do happen. We see it happen in New Orleans and other areas. And, you know, you have somewhat of, you know, a culture that it won't happen in New Bern. And it has happened in New Bern.

CORNISH: Right. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has said, quote, "whole communities could be wiped out by Florence." Based on the damage you've seen so far, are you afraid that could happen to New Bern?

OUTLAW: Well, New Bern is 308 years old. We've been through many hurricanes. We're going to be through many more in the future. But we are a resilient citizenry. And we will have the streets clean and ready for business as soon as we can. As you well know, New Bern has been rated a number one visitor attraction and retirement community. And so, you know, we're 30,000 citizens. We're about 30 miles inland from the Atlantic ocean. And, you know, we're just a gem of a place to visit or to come live - millennials on up to retirees.

CORNISH: That's Dana Outlaw. He's mayor of New Bern, N.C. Thank you for speaking with us. And please stay safe.

OUTLAW: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.