Much of the damage from Hurricane Isaias in Beaufort County was caused by tornadoes that the main storm spawned. Photo courtesy of Beaufort County

More than a month after Hurricane Isaias made landfall in North Carolina, officials and residents in one Eastern North Carolina county are still assessing the storm’s impact.

Beaufort County saw a wide range of impacts from the storm, which was classified as a Category 1 hurricane when it made landfall Aug. 3 near Ocean Isle in Brunswick County.

The National Weather Service estimates the hurricane dropped between 1.5 and 4 inches of rain across Beaufort County, but its coastal impact and high winds were the real story.

The storm spawned three separate EF-1 tornadoes across the county — in Bayview, Pinetown and Goose Creek State Park.

“Three tornadoes were recorded in Beaufort County during the hurricane,” said NWS meteorologist Charlie Bowen, who is based in Morehead City. “We had five total reports of tornadoes in our coverage region, and three of them were in Beaufort County.”

While some reports alleged that the tornado that claimed two lives in Bertie County originated in Beaufort County, Bowen said the reports were incorrect.

“The tornado in question could have been from the same system that came through Beaufort County, but it was not the same tornado,” he said.

Belhaven businesses bouncing back

The hardest hit region in Beaufort County was Belhaven, a town of just under 1,700 residents, located near the mouth of the Pungo River, which empties into Pamlico Sound.

Wind speeds of 60 mph were recorded at Belhaven, the highest in the county, bringing down limbs and trees, while causing roads near the shore to be inundated.

Beaufort County Emergency Services Director Carnie Hedgepeth told Carolina Public Press that the rains also led to flooding in some Belhaven businesses.

“Those businesses were forced to close temporarily so that they could get the water out,” he said.

Belhaven Community Chamber and Welcome Center Executive Director Diana Lembeth blamed the coastal storm surge for the problems affecting Belhaven’s businesses.

“All of our businesses on Main Street sustained flooding due to the storm surge,” she told CPP.

“I think in all, we had about 10 inches of water as a result of the surge. We are a resilient town, though. Most of the businesses that had to close were reopened within about a week. I think most of the businesses that had to close either have recovered or are still recovering,”

When asked about the economic effects of the town’s businesses having to temporarily close, Lembeth stressed the minimal impact.

“Many of the businesses that had to close also have an online presence, so they were able to keep operating even though they weren’t in their buildings,” she said.

“I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me, but I can say that their being able to continue doing business even despite having to close their stores temporarily helped reduce the impact on the town and on them. None of the businesses that had to close have had to ask for any federal assistance, either, which is even better.”

According to Lembeth, a variety of food and retail stores are located on the town’s Main Street district, such as clothing retail stores Southern Tuck and Market 32, and eatery Gingerbread Bakery & O’Neal’s Snack Bar.

Southern Tuck owner Angie Bishop said that, even though she has a website through which she can sell her products, the inability to transport them due to the flooding hurt her business.

“We had about 4 inches of rain in my store,” she said.

“Though during Florence, we had 40 inches of water in the store, so it wasn’t as bad this time as it could have been.

“I was forced to shut down for about a week, which cost me about a few thousand dollars in revenues. That was because we had to take time to wait for the water to recede and then rip out the carpeting and wait for new carpeting to be brought in and laid down. On top of it, the flooding prevented the truck holding the product from delivering items that are sold through my website.

“Luckily, this happened in August, which for me is traditionally a slow time,” she added. “So yeah, it hurt losing those revenues, but we have been able to recover.”

Gingerbread Bakery & O’Neal’s Snack Bar owner Ginger Scoop said her business suffered losses due to Isaias’ impacts, but they were not as bad as they could have been.

“We did have some water in our store,” she said. “We also lost power for about eight to 10 hours. So, we lost a lot of our product and had to close for about three to four days. Since we sell food, the health department wouldn’t let us operate while the electricity was off, which makes sense.

“We had to shut down also because we had to wait for the water in the store to recede and so that we could wash and sanitize everything before reopening. I can’t put an exact figure on how much we lost in revenues, but I’d say it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. It was a minimal impact for us.”

Little Washington soaked, drying out quickly

Washington, commonly known in Eastern North Carolina as “Little Washington,” is the Beaufort County seat and largest population center, with just under 10,000 residents, according to recent census estimates.

The city received the highest recorded rainfall during Isaias, at 3.61 inches over 24 hours, Bowen said.

Washington City Manager Jonathan Russell told CPP that the city has largely recovered.

“Things are going well for us in Washington,” he said.

“We had limited damage. We may still have a handful of residential properties waiting for contractors to get their repair work done, but things are largely back to normal here. The storm track did change, but I feel like the city was prepared. We took all of the necessary precautions even before the track changed.”

Washington resident Robert Tunnell echoed Russell’s statements.

“We did lose power at my house for a while,” Tunnell said.

“It was maybe for seven hours, nothing out of the ordinary. My wife and I don’t know anyone around us that experienced anything more than an inconvenience.”

Countywide damage

Residential storm damage countywide totaled $779,250, not including damage to utilities and roads, Hedgepeth said. Affected homeowners have insurance to cover the costs of repairs, he said.

Tideland Electric Membership Corp., which provides electricity to residents in Beaufort County, recorded damage totaling $500,000 in Beaufort County alone, said spokeperson Heidi Smith.

The agency also serves Hyde, Washington, Pamlico, Dare and Craven counties, which also received some damage.

“The majority of the damage was from downed power poles and wires down,” she said. “We were actually spared. The impact for us was very mild. We had 22 broken poles and 37 damaged transformers across our coverage region. At the end of the first day, we had restored power to 90% of our members.”

At the peak of the storm, Beaufort County reported 7,810 outages, the highest in Tideland EMC’s six county coverage range.

Smith attributed the high number of outages in the county to two of the three tornadoes that touched down in Beaufort County.

Federal assistance

Beaufort County officials recently met with Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives about financial assistance, County Manager Brian Alligood told CPP.

The county is eligible for reimbursement for money paid to county employees for overtime worked during the storm and for costs associated with storm preparations, he said.

“I do anticipate the county being reimbursed,” Hedgepath said. “We as a county did not expect to get more than that, because the storm damage total did not reach the amount that was required to receive more funding.”

However, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to slow FEMA’s response, Hedgepeth said.

“On an optimum day, we would have everything done as soon as possible, but add in everything caused by COVID-19, and we do not expect this to happen tomorrow,” he said.

“Luckily, our county manages its budgets very well, so we do not foresee the slowed reimbursements to negatively impact the county’s finances.”

Alligood agreed that a delay was anticipated but would not pose a hardship.

“COVID-19 has slowed things down, but at this point we do not foresee any real concerns stemming from the slowdown,” Alligood said.

“Finances are always a concern, but right now we are not overly worried.”

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Philip Sayblack

Philip Sayblack is a Carolina Public Press contributing writer based in Wilson. Send an email to info@carolinapublicpress.org to him or other news team members.

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