Gov. Pat McCrory broadcast his press conference live on Facebook Tuesday night from Raleigh as he laid out the state’s continued response to Hurricane Matthew.
With flood waters along the Neuse River still advancing on hundred-year flood records, McCrory assured that the state’s disaster relief funding will last into 2017 while vowing to call a special session as early as next week if more money is needed to aid displaced residents from affected counties, which stretch from Edgecombe County near Rocky Mount to Robeson County on the South Carolina state line.
McCrory then opened up for questions, but in the end only had to answer two, both from the same reporter: Kirk Ross of the Washington Post.
The first: “I wanted to see if you have any numbers or estimates on the livestock
and what are some of the concerns while you’re trying to get them buried as soon as possible?”
It may sound odd that the first question from the national press about a major weather event that has, as of this writing, claimed the lives of 20 North Carolinians would be about livestock, but Eastern North Carolina is the the production engine of the state’s poultry and pork industries.
The N.C. Farm Bureau Federation reported in July that the state ranks second in the nation in hog & turkey production and fourth in the production of broiler chickens & trout.
How McCrory would have an estimate of livestock lost while the waters in some areas were still rising is beyond me, but make no mistake that the general consensus here in Kinston is that we, too, are very concerned about the animals throughout Eastern North Carolina.
A south Kinston resident told me her rental property, which has already been condemned, was in danger of flooding. Her concern Monday wasn’t with the building, but a pen in the back with more than a half dozen dogs in it.
Along with an inside dog the woman said is afraid to leave the home, she said she felt powerless as she considered where she’ll go and if any of her dogs would be better off if she turned them loose, trusting they — and she — would return home after the flood waters receded.
Lenoir Community College has opened as a pet-friendly shelter for displaced families, which will house pets on campus, but owners are asked to bring a three-day supply of food per pet, bowls, crates, and leashes.
Enter Chris Suggs; a 16-year-old Kinston icon, and his service-driven nonprofit Kinston Teens.
Besides arranging grocery store runs and promoting donation sites, Suggs and other Kinston Teens volunteers have gone door-to-door daily through neighborhoods expected to flood and advising residents about the city’s ordered evacuation.
Local volunteers congregated near C.H. Bynum Elementary School before visiting each home in the neighborhood to encourage those still there to head for higher ground while a staged bus waited to shuttle any takers to one of the two shelters in Lenoir County.
Mayor B.J. Murphy has made door-knocking rounds like these each day this week, often offering that the knock today is better than a visit from a boat this weekend after the Neuse River makes its highest crest in recorded history.
An NBC Nightly News crew followed Murphy from driveway to driveway for a news segment that aired Wednesday evening, putting footage of devastation in Princeville, Hope Mills and Lumberton on full display for the nation.
Away from the cameras, one home where no one answered the door was visited twice more, once when a vehicle license plate identified the owner as a disabled veteran and again when a golden retriever was spotted running around in the backyard.
One volunteer said she couldn’t bear to think about what was to become of pets left behind or the agony of owners separated from their loved ones.
EDITOR’S NOTE- Update 10 a.m. Oct. 15: The golden retriever was evacuated from the backyard Oct. 14 at the request of the owner, according to a neighbor.
So suffice it to say that, yes, we in Eastern North Carolina are concerned about the well-being of our animals. At the same time, however, we are devastatingly worried about the safety and security of our human neighbors, as evidenced by an outpouring of support and altruism from across the country and throughout the region.
And, when the time comes, we will mourn the catastrophic losses of our farmers, the backbone of the N.C. economy, who raise everything from Thanksgiving turkey to Easter ham as well as the pitiful way our livestock died.
But when entire neighborhoods and towns and all the memories they contain are still underwater, our first thought isn’t about how it might affect the state’s $84 billion agriculture economy or hog waste runoff because in North Carolina we know those farmers have families now preparing for rough times ahead.
And so right now, we should be asking — first — about our human neighbors. And maybe their pets.