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Area agencies, groups respond to storm-hit areas

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

With the Albemarle's neighbors to the south still underwater because of Hurricane Florence, local first responders and disaster relief groups are mobilizing to help them.

Medical personnel, church volunteers and others are responding to the dire flooding in southeastern North Carolina, where Florence dumped in excess of two feet of water on many communities – some still recovering from Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Published reports also state the worst may not be over, as rivers may crest later this week and send water back into people's homes.

Seven counties have sent ambulance crews to southeastern North Carolina to provide medical care and other help, Pasquotank-Camden Emergency Medical Services Director Jerry Newell explained Monday. Ambulance services in Pasquotank-Camden, Bertie, Chowan, Dare and Perquimans have contributed ambulances and two crew members each to a strike team, he explained. Currituck County also has an ambulance bus in the area, he added.

He said the agencies will have personnel there for around two weeks, depending on the need. He said they'll help respond to 911 calls, provide immunizations and vaccinations, and even help pass out food and water if needed.

The agencies fielding personnel are also part of Northeastern Region EMS Administrators, or NEREMSA, Newell explained. He said the group formed in 2012 to help the agencies work together and coordinate unified responses. This is the first strike team formed, and he said it came together “stupendously,” he added.

Newell also credited Jonathan Nixon, Perquimans' Emergency Services director, with calling him about the strike team. Nixon said the ambulance services have made a commitment to support neighboring communities, and he thanked the staff that stepped up to respond to the storm.

Nixon also explained that the state requested the agencies' help through the N.C. Emergency Management office in Kinston. However, he said the crews may be assigned to work anywhere in southeastern N.C.

A field hospital has also opened near Kinston at South Lenoir High School in Deep Run, where Sentara Healthcare has sent a team of 21 volunteers to help storm victims. Nurses Nicole Harden and Celia Parrish, of Sentara Albemarle Medical Center, are among them.

“We're pretty much an island,” Parrish said in a phone interview Monday, alluding to floodwaters limiting access to the high school. She also explained they're providing a “mobile ER” that's treated coughs, cuts and more.

Harden added the mobile hospital is stationed in Deep Run to serve people who may be cut off from nearby hospitals due to flooding. She also said that, while the mobile ER took some getting used to, it's much better equipped than she expected.

As to why they're there, Parrish said it's gratifying to help people as a nurse, whether in Elizabeth City or Deep Run.

Harden also said she wanted to help – and, considering Florence had been forecast to hit the Albemarle – “I feel like this very easily could have been us.”

Sentara Albemarle spokeswoman Anya Soucy reported the state has asked Sentara's team to stay through Thursday, for now. She reported the team is expecting to see 80-plus patients a day, and it's being supported with helicopters.

“All roads leading to the mobile hospital have been cut off with the exception of one route,” Soucy wrote.

The Elizabeth City Fire Department is also helping out storm victims. Chief Corey Mercer said Monday that four ECFD firefighters went down to New Bern on Saturday to assist the city's fire department. They're available to help with fires, but are also helping with search-and-rescue operations and wellness checks, he explained.

Mercer also said that, based on what his firefighters have told him, the flooding there is “pretty catastrophic.”

Preston Spear is trying to help the storm victims as well. As part of N.C. Baptist Men's disaster relief, and working through Corinth Baptist Church in Elizabeth City, he explained he's overseeing deployment of mobile kitchens to New Bern, Wilmington and Lumberton. Those communities are still badly flooded, and he's recruiting volunteers to help get them hot meals, he explained.

He said the kitchen in New Bern is already running, while they're still trying to get the other two set up.

“The main things are roads now,” he said, adding drivers must have taken some creative routes to get down there. He noted reports that parts of I-95, I-40 and U.S. 17 were washed out.

Spear also said the three kitchens combined could produce 90,000 meals a day, if needed.

Spear also welcomed volunteers to help the effort. Kitchen staff need special training due to food regulations, but anyone could volunteer to help with support functions, he said.

Anyone interested in volunteering should call Corinth at 335-7287.

The Albemarle Area United Way has also established the “UW Helps NC Fund” to help respond to agencies' immediate relief requests, the nonprofit announced in a press release Monday. Donations will provide emergency food and temporary shelter, and then rebuilding and other long-term recovery, it adds.

For more information, call the AAUW at 333-1510.

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