Former WNCT anchors reflect on "The Flood of the Century" - WNCN: News, Weather

Former WNCT anchors reflect on "The Flood of the Century"

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GREENVILLE, N.C. - As part of WNCT's 60th anniversary, we're looking back at 9 days in September of 1999 few will forget.

Two storms, Hurricane Dennis and Hurricane Floyd, hit the coast of eastern Carolina. Together, they caused what many call the "Flood of the Century."

9 On Your Side was on the air through it all, from landfall to recovery.
    
Chief Meteorologist David Sawyer was part of that team. He took a look back with some familiar faces that helped guide eastern Carolina through a very challenging time.

“What amazed me, amazed me about the time, was you could literally draw a line and watch the water rise. And draw another line and the water would continue to rise. And it just kept coming and coming and coming. Even the hydrologists didn't know what was going on,” recalled Allan Hoffman, former WNCT anchor.

“Exactly right,” agreed David Sawyer, 9 On Your Side chief meteorologist. “As we all have termed it and appropriately named it, the “Flood of the Century” after. I'll never forget, to kinda get that ball rolling, in the aftermath, I'll never forget waking up that morning to a beautiful sunny day. You know, every time a hurricane comes through it's a beautiful sunny day after.”

Floyd had come and gone, but what the team didn't realize is how bad the flooding was getting or how long it would last.

“[I] got in my car driving back toward Kinston, where we lived at that time,” recalled Sawyer. “You know, off in the desert, they talk about the mirage. You can see the, well, I said how can there be a shimmy of water on the roadway here? And that was really water. At that time, the little creek area right there moving toward Grifton, Contentnea Creek, all of that completely covered up Highway 11, Highway 903. And I got a phone call and, and, from there, ah, they said get back to the station as fast as you can it was a big blur from that point.”

“That was my deal,” agreed Hoffman. “I mean we'd been up two days covering the storm. And then, we get to go home, have something to eat, lay down in bed, and hour later we get the call to come back. It started again.”

The one-two punch from Dennis and then Floyd dumped 30 inches of rain on the east in two weeks.

“At that time, the News Director and the General Manager came to me and they said, ‘Are you afraid of flying,’” Sawyer recollected. “And y'all all know me. I love to fly. I'm the pilot that wishes I was, but never has been. You know I really love aviation. But bottom line is they put me in that helicopter and, ah, this actually is a one of my little trophies. Knowing I was going into a helicopter, I took my suit off. Well, before I took my suit off, I went to one of the local department stores and bought this shirt and a pair of jeans.

“You impressed me, because you, it, it was very difficult to figure out. Everything looked so different at that point and you couldn’t say exactly where the waters were and what used to be there,” recalled Elizabeth Wilder, former WNCT anchor.

“Absolutely right,” agreed Sawyer. “Well, one of our chief photographers, Kevin O'Brien, pointed out to me as we were going over the video. I recognized Tarboro, but I failed to mention Princeville. You want to know why? It was totally under water. I did not even see Princeville at that time.”  

“You talked about Princeville. Mentioning Princeville was gone, when they breached the levy and the levy failed. I remember very clearly video we had of one of our reporters floating by City Hall and all you could see was the roof and then, Princeville,” said Hoffman.

A simple request started a relief effort

“They did the exact right thing with Brian they put him in front of Sam's,” said Hoffman.

“That's right,” agreed Sawyer. “For the relief.”

“His job was to get relief, was to get people to come in and give things. And he was there for hours,” explained Hoffman.

“The relief master,” agreed 9 On your Side Sports Director Brian Bailey.

“You were,” agreed Sawyer and Wilder.

“At one point, I look at him and you had pockets full of cash. And it worked you had both hands full of cash,” recalled Hoffman.

“The funny thing about that, they called, they got in my ear piece and said you got to take us to the top of the hour and it was a quarter til 5,” remembered Bailey. “So I can probably do enough for the top of the hour, but then, they said no, not 5. 6! So we had an hour and 15 minutes that they just put the camera on me and we were out there just kind of messing around.”

I remember the thing so vividly that everybody came together over there, because they were lucky enough to be there and just the teamwork and camaraderie and we did have a good time,” said Bailey. “They first had me behind the camera, in front of the camera, taking emails, and trying to help people out. Well, the first email I got, I got no clue, lady, of how to help you. I’ve got to get outta here. So then they said, go to Sam's Club and work at Sam's Club and that worked out pretty well.”

“How 'bout that,” chuckled Sawyer.

“Well, you filled up three and a half 18 wheelers,” said Hoffman.

“Yeah, we did,” agreed Bailey. “We filled up lots of trucks. And people were so generous, the ones that had it to give. They were coming up with cash, coming up with items. A lot people would just come up a go shopping and just say, hey Bailey, what do they need? I'd say, the last I heard they need this and they go in and get it and bring it back out. And we filled the trucks up.”

Over those nine days in September there was $3 billion in damage, 7,000 homes destroyed, and 1,500 people rescued from flood waters.

“We stopped in Scuffleton, near Ayden, and there was a small store there, a Mom and Pop. And a guy was sitting on the Pepsi machine and I got out and asked if you know if this road is clear,” recalled Hoffman. “And the guy said, aren't you the guy from television? I said yes and he said, man we need help. We need help now. I said what's the matter? He said we need water and we need ice. So I gave them the water that we had and I made a call to the station to see if we could get some help for the folks in Scuffleton. As we were sitting there, people were coming up the road. It started with these two guys and ended up with about 30 who all needed help.  I got back to the station and during the next two hours we got a call in from the guy in Scuffleton saying the National Guard truck got the word and came by and dropped off ice and water and something to eat. So they were doing ok. That felt good to be able to do something, physically help someone that you looked at face to face.” 
Our 60th anniversary coverage will continue leading up to the actual day of December 22nd.

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