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Extreme Flooding Cuts Off Wilmington From The Rest Of North Carolina

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

High water has made it hard to get in or get out of Wilmington, N.C. The state's biggest seaport is on a peninsula, the ocean in front, the Cape Fear River behind. The city just missed the worst of the wind of Hurricane Florence but not the water. Wilmington Deputy Fire Chief Jon Mason spent the night on the floor of his office, woke up this morning, had a cup of coffee and came to the phone to talk with us. Chief Mason, good morning.

JON MASON: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What's it look like when you move around Wilmington?

MASON: So this morning, I looked out, and it wasn't raining. And it's relatively dry, considering all the things I was - over the last few days. I haven't been out and about this morning, but it's still a bit chaotic. Lots of trees down, power lines down, most everyone without power. But we're slowly starting to get back...

INSKEEP: OK. Most...

MASON: ...On our feet.

INSKEEP: This is useful to know. Most everyone in Wilmington, N.C., without power. And we're several days in and might have several days to go. We have seen images of a lot of streets with water up to the doors of cars, with water clearly in houses. Have you had to rescue a lot of people?

MASON: We have done over 250 water-related rescues through yesterday. We've been - thankfully had a very quiet night, but we've got at least 250 water-related rescues that we've made over the course of the last 48 hours.

INSKEEP: Can you just talk us through what's happening? Are you going through flooded neighborhoods in boats, for example?

MASON: Yes, sir. We are. We have - our fire crews have teamed up with the Indiana Task Force One, who was a - is a FEMA task force who we had predeployed here in town prior to the storm's arrival. We split up their crews to go with ours and go through neighborhoods and get those folks who had called in or texted in or Facebooked (ph) in or sent emails or any way they could to contact us that they needed to be evacuated. And we have access to all of those folks at this time and got those folks out and into shelters.

INSKEEP: Had you previously told everyone to leave Wilmington?

MASON: Yes, sir, we have. We were pretty adamant about evacuations. I don't believe Wilmington or New Hanover County ever went under a mandatory evacuations. Now, the beaches, I believe, were evacuated under a mandatory evacuation, but it was very clear. The Weather Channel and local news stations as well did - encouraging people to evacuate. And certainly the governor was very specific about it as well, encouraging folks to leave.

INSKEEP: How many people have died in Wilmington so far as you know this morning?

MASON: So we have three confirmed fatalities over the course of this storm in Wilmington and New Hanover County.

INSKEEP: It must be hard to get a picture of the damage when you're in it. You can't get the global view, so to speak, or the overhead view of the city. But do you have a sense of how seriously damaged Wilmington is, if there are entire neighborhoods, for example, that are going to have difficulty recovering?

MASON: On our - on the northern part of New Hanover County is where the majority of the flooding is. Today we need to get in there and do damage assessment and just see how bad it is. I'm fearful that that's where the most affected folks are. It's a little more rural than the city. And there are certainly a lot of people up there. So we have - like I said before, we've cleared out everybody that has requested evacuation. But I'm sure there are several neighborhoods up there that are just inundated with water. The roadways up there - that's where the interstate I-40 comes into New Hanover County. And it's completely flooded up there, so I suspect that when we get up there today to clear those neighborhoods, they will be certainly inundated with water.

INSKEEP: We have heard your city described as an island, at least temporarily. Is it causing difficulty that it's difficult to get in or out of Wilmington right now?

MASON: Yes, sir. Yesterday morning - when we woke up, it was a bit gloomy in the emergency operations center yesterday because we had spent the previous several days getting resources in. And yesterday we couldn't get a lot of those things in like we had planned. So they're slowly trickling in. And hopefully some of the waters will recede today, and we'll be able to get some more help in here for our folks.

INSKEEP: Jon Mason is the deputy fire chief of Wilmington, N.C. Thank you, sir, and stay safe.

MASON: Thank you. It was great to talk to you. Have a great day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.