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North Carolina Firefighter On Responding To Storm


Torrential rain continues in the Carolinas. And though Florence has been downgraded to a tropical depression, authorities say the excessive amounts of rain are expected to be catastrophic. In the coastal town of Washington, N.C., boat rescues have stopped. But first responders continue to work around the clock. Matthew Van Nortwick is a senior firefighter and EMT for the city of Washington. And he joins us on the line now. Good morning.

MATTHEW VAN NORTWICK: Good morning. How are you?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm well. But more to the point, how are you? I know you must be exhausted. I hear you're just getting off of a 2 1/2-day shift.

VAN NORTWICK: Yeah, a little tired. Great to be home. Great to be home.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I can imagine. You rescued about 260 people. Can you tell me what you saw? What happened?

VAN NORTWICK: Well, the water came up very fast this time. We're used to a little bit of flooding, but most of the time it comes from our rain. This time it came from the storm surge. And I had the first people that we went to happen about 2:30 on Friday morning. And they told us that there was no water in the street, in front of their house 45 minutes prior to us getting there. And at that point when we got there, the water was probably six inches deep inside of their house.


VAN NORTWICK: So they came in very fast this time. That's what caught a lot of people off guard.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you describe some of the rescues that you did? I mean, were these families? Were these elderly people? People with children?

VAN NORTWICK: You - we went anywhere from, you know, newborns to elderly people that were wheelchair-bound, you know, left them into wheelchairs, carried them out into large trucks or boats. There was times where we would take boats and drive them onto people's porches. They would step out of their front door into a boat and then be taken to higher ground from there. We're somewhat used to hurricanes around here - nothing like this. It's been a long time since we've seen flooding like this. But the hurricane is kind of nothing new around here to these folks. So I would say for the most part, folks were prepared. And a lot of folks did get out ahead of the storm.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just give me an estimation of the damage that you're seeing. I mean, is it very, very serious?

VAN NORTWICK: We didn't get the wind that they were calling for originally, which was a huge blessing. If we would've had this flooding on top of wind, there's no telling what it could have been. So we were very fortunate not to have that. Everything low-lying has a lot of water. There's a lot of houses that have water in them. And even the ones that don't, you know, you've got a lot of ductwork on their houses, belongings in the yard - that kind of stuff is scattered throughout the city. It's a mess right now. But as of yesterday morning, they were already out there cleaning up the roads and getting everything back open as best they could.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I know you've been working around the clock. What kind of calls are you still getting now that the rescues are over?

VAN NORTWICK: There's a lot of electrical issues. You know, water and electricity don't mix, of course. We're seeing a lot of electrical issues popping up. Propane tanks - and everybody's got a propane tank in the backyard. And they float up. And it'll break the line going to the house. So that's been an issue we've had. You know, break the line and gas leak - going to cut those off. And then just, you know, all the normal calls that we would normally have on a normal day stacked on top of that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You have said that people are already out basically trying to assess the damage and do what they can. So I guess the recovery is under way. What do you need? What is the thing that you need most, do you think, at this point?

VAN NORTWICK: I'll be honest. We have got such an outpouring from everybody. There's food. We - there's been no shortage of food. We have ate like kings. We've got resources from Los Angeles, Orange County, Fla., New York, Connecticut. We've got people coming from everywhere in here. It's very neat to see everybody come together in a time like this.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Matthew, I have to ask - how's your family?

VAN NORTWICK: Everybody's good. My brother and sister-in-law are also in this field. So they're still not home either. My parents live in Belhaven, which is a low-lying area. Heading there this morning to check on them and the animals. But as far as I know, everybody is good to go.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm glad to hear it. Matthew Van Nortwick, a first responder in Washington, N.C., thank you so much for joining us. And stay safe.

VAN NORTWICK: Thank you. You, too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.