With Florence, many areas in Coastal North Carolina appear to be entering uncharted territory. That will make an already-difficult response even more challenging.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, we've been preaching patience and perspective. We'll add two more P words — (un)precedented and (un)predictable.
Much of our response to hurricanes and flooding is based on precedent. This definition sums up the word nicely: "An earlier event or action that is regarded as an example or guide to be considered in subsequent similar circumstances."
With Hurricane Florence, however, "unprecedented" is being used more and more, primarily concerning high water in areas that never have flooded — at least not to this extent.
All hurricanes are unpredictable, making the response both before and after exceptionally difficult. With Florence, many areas in Coastal North Carolina appear to be entering uncharted territory. That will make an already-difficult response even more challenging. Our hurricane response "playbook" — by its very nature already less than perfect — is now incomplete. That means officials and residents are having to add to it, modifying many plans and starting from scratch on others.
For that to work, it's not just government and other relief officials that will need to be flexible and creative in responding to this still-developing disaster. So, too, will all of us who have been affected by Florence. That is particularly important as floodwaters continue to rise in certain areas. Because the flooding is unprecedented in some parts of the region, knowing exactly where, when and by how much the water will continue to rise or spread is practically impossible.
Until we are completely out of the woods, it's vital that residents anywhere near rivers and creeks continue to closely monitor flood advisories and heed warnings. Hopefully, additional flooding will not be life-threatening, but we simply don't know. Once again, this is uncharted territory.
Remember, too, that it's not just flooding that remains unpredictable. We know, for example, that street and highway foundations have been compromised. In some places, the damage is obvious, as sections of roadways were washed away or have collapsed into sinkholes. What we don't know, however, is the condition beneath roads with no obvious signs of damage, especially in areas that are clear now but were inundated with fast-moving water a few days ago.
The N.C. Department of Transportation and local governments are tasked not only with repairing the widespread road damage we've seen in videos and photos, but must also ensure that roadbeds and bridge foundations — often out of sight — are safe.
With Florence likely causing unprecedented damage here, the recovery will demand our best. We should make sure that the scope, effectiveness and timeliness of that recovery effort is unprecedented, too.
REPRINTED FROM THE NEW BERN SUN JOURNAL