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Wilmington leaders fear wrath of hurricane season after Florence's damage

WILMINGTON, N.C. – Some leaders in cities along the coast are worried that another strong hurricane season could have the same devastating effects residents saw last September.

Wilmington, North Carolina, found itself cut off from the world because of severe flooding during Florence, and the mayor has been lobbying the government to fund infrastructure upgrades to keep it from happening again.

It's almost beach season in Wilmington, so that's what people are looking forward to. But many people are still dealing with the storm's effects.

The region of nearly 300,000 found themselves cut off from the world and that was a major wake-up call.

Hurricane Florence delivered its punch and Wilmington survived, but things did not get easier once the storm moved out.

"I think it was very real, I think the utility authority was going to have an issue with fuel, we were working hard to get them the fuel they needed," said Steven Still, New Hanover County emergency management director. 

The water treatment plant was running out of fuel and flooded roads put running water at risk of being shut off.

"They would back up and they would try different routes into the county and it was during that time that we soon discovered that we were an island," said Still. 

"What nobody anticipated was that we were going to have a slow moving storm, that was moving at 3 miles per hour, was over 400 miles long, and would stay on top of us for literally 48 hours," said Bill Saffo, mayor of Wilmington. 

Saffo says unprecedented flooding shows the infrastructure is old and needs work. He's become the face of local governments lobbying for upgrades and last week was one of many trips to D.C.

"It's critically important to be able to get people in here in the aftermath and so when you can't get people in and you can't get people out it creates a tremendous amount of havoc for the people that are here," said Saffo. 

Saffo wants Interstate 95 and Interstate 40 raised in areas that flood so that this never happens again. He says in-state growth and climate change have a direct impact on his city.

"You're talking about civil unrest, after about four or five days people will take issues into their own hands," said Saffo. 

Still's team found a way to get the gas in and the water never stopped flowing, but it was unneeded stress they don't want to have to deal with again. 

"Where was the point of failure, water, fuel, transportation, infrastructure, as we go back up the line where can we do better," said Still.

Saffo has been in talks with President Trump's team and he is hopeful a deal can get done. But even if that happened tomorrow, upgrades are still years away, potentially putting them in the same position again if another storm hits.

Despite all that --- the city is using this Hurricane Preparedness Week to prepare and improve a water main that almost gave out during Florence.


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