Responding to Hurricane Florence: How Clients Dealt with a 1,000-Year Flood

As far as hurricanes go, Florence wasn’t spectacular. Those of us who live along the coast have survived storms with much fiercer winds and more ferocious gusts. Like last-minute houseguests who drop in for one last beach trip before school starts, our hurricanes typically roar in, disrupt our lives and schedules for a few days, then waft away.

But Florence was different. She breezed into our communities, leisurely made herself at home, and wildly overstayed her welcome. She lounged for four long days, dumping epic amounts of rain—as much as 36 inches in some areas and a total of 8.06 trillion gallons across North Carolina.

By the time she departed, Florence had caused 53 deaths, catastrophic flooding in three states, and $38 billion in damage.

While those of us in Florence’s path were busy ensuring the safety and welfare of our families and households, many of our clients were also charged with ensuring the safety and welfare of their entire communities. The following recounts how several of our clients dealt with the 1,000-year flood brought about by Hurricane Florence.

Technology Speeds Assessment

Hurricane Florence’s historic rains and subsequent flooding rendered most affected areas impassable and dangerous. Some were accessible only by boat. Thousands of people were impacted. Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) technology provided a way for clients to assess damage quickly, safely and cost effectively.

McKim & Creed mobilized drone pilots from Texas, Georgia and North Carolina, and stationed teams in Wilmington and New Bern, two of the hardest-hit areas in North Carolina, to assess damage. The UAS technology worked particularly well in swampy, heavily wooded areas that were difficult, dangerous or impossible to get to on foot.

“Our clients were able to view the UAS data in real-time in the field. Just minutes after each flight, video was available for closer inspection and zoom-ins. From there, they could direct crews to the damaged areas,” explained Todd King, PLS, LEED AP, a drone pilot who coordinated McKim & Creed’s UAS efforts.

McKim & Creed conducted nearly 100 UAS flights for clients. “UAS provided high-quality damage assessment data very quickly, and the video gave our clients the ability to fully document the extent of the damage,” said Mr. King.
McKim & Creed used UAS technology to accurately assess damages and flooded road conditions for clients.

Neighbors Helping Neighbors

Crisis and devastation can bring out the best in people. In response to Hurricane Florence, volunteers poured into affected areas, offering food, water and helping hands. Neighbors helped neighbors clear debris and clean out flooded structures. Whatever people had to offer, they gave, even as they were sorting out their own needs.

And that’s exactly what Craven County did, on a very large scale. Florence packed a wallop in the county, causing nearly $200 million in structural damage and harming approximately 5,000 residential and commercial structures.


Craven County was among the hardest hit areas in North Carolina. (Photo courtesy of Craven County)

But while Florence was inflicting her worst, the Craven County Potable Water Supply and Treatment Facility was doing its best. The water plant and its dedicated staff not only maintained water supplies to Craven County customers, they also provided emergency water for the hard-hit areas of the City of Havelock and Jones County.

The 3-mgd facility, which opened in October 2017, provides water to approximately 15,000 households in Craven County. It was designed to function during extended power outages, and features generators capable of operating the system from raw water supply, treatment and disinfection through transmission.

During Hurricane Florence, the treatment plant “ran the way it was expected. I was tickled!” said Elliott Thomas, who supervises the facility.

“Elliot and crew did a fantastic job maintaining water levels to ensure adequate water supply. It was really amazing to see how well it performed. You guys deserve a gold star for the design and integrity of our plant,” commented Jack Veit, Craven County manager.

McKim & Creed served as the engineer on the water plant project and worked with the county for nearly 13 years to identify a new water source; research and test treatment options; locate the site for the new facility and wells; and plan, design, permit and oversee construction on the plant. The facility enables the county to continue providing high-quality, great-tasting water at one of the lowest rates in Eastern North Carolina.


Hurricane Florence caused nearly $200 million of structural damage in Craven County. (Photos courtesy of Craven County)


The Craven County Potable Water Supply and Treatment Facility was designed with generators at each production well site as well as the treatment site. In the case of a power outage, these generators (left) can produce enough electricity to operate the system from raw water supply, treatment (top right) and disinfection through transmission (bottom right). The facility operated so effectively during Hurricane Florence that the County was able to provide emergency water to surrounding areas as well its own customers.

Responding to an Emergency Need

What’s a public utility director’s worst nightmare? Losing critical services—like water and fire protection—that can leave their communities vulnerable.

That nightmare became reality for many utility directors during Hurricane Florence. John Nichols, who serves in this capacity for Brunswick County, was one of them. “We had multiple dam failures in the City of Boiling Spring Lakes and several water main ruptures in areas outside the city. Some of these were critical for fire protection in addition to the ordinary consumer demands,” he said.

In urgent need of assistance, Brunswick County reached out to McKim & Creed to prepare engineering drawings for six areas near Boiling Spring Lakes and the City of Southport. We provided design documents, specifications, details and quantities necessary for contractors to move quickly in the construction process. “Our plans were designed to minimize the potential for similar failures in the future,” according to McKim & Creed Vice President Tony Boahn, PE.

“Most of the work included horizontal directional drilling where [the largest] dam had blown out, along with connections on either side. With McKim & Creed’s help, we were able to begin the repair process almost immediately after the storm was over to restore water facilities as quickly as possible,” said Mr. Nichols.

But while repairs were under way in Boiling Spring Lakes, a contractor accidentally hit the single water main that was furnishing the entire city’s water supply. Once again, the city was without water.

But this time, Brunswick County had engineering drawings in hand and repairs in progress. The city was able to restore the redundant line later than afternoon, said Mr. Nichols. “We learned how important it is to treat any loss of redundancy as quickly as possible.”

Multiple dams in Boiling Spring Lakes failed during Hurricane Florence. (Photo courtesy of Brunswick County)

(Left) Ten-inch water main damage in Boiling Spring Lakes (Right) Shown here are two roadways impacted by severe flooding. (Photo courtesy of Brunswick County)