Teams from the county and around the state were still attempting to rescue storm victims Tuesday, officials said, and urged other residents to stay home. Approximately 19,000 people reside in Bertie County, according to the Census Bureau.
"We want to emphasize that this is not a recovery mission, and rescues are still taking place," Bertie County Emergency Management Director Mitch Cooper said in a statement posted online around noon Tuesday urging people to steer clear of the area.
Officials said emergency crews arrived before the storm ended and battled strong winds, rain and downed trees to reach the area.
More than 127,000 homes were without power Tuesday afternoon, down from more than 300,000 statewide, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said. The fast-moving storm cut power to at least 400,000 people in Virginia and Maryland.
From the Delmarva Peninsula into southern New England, gusts topped 60 mph along the coast, and even 70 mph around the New York City area, where there was widespread tree damage.
The storm made landfall Monday night in North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane but quickly turned into a tropical storm. Coastal flooding hit record levels in Myrtle Beach, S.C. The popular tourist destination, home to nearly 35,000 residents, had some flooded streets along the coast Monday night but did not have anyone in shelters and reported little damage or injuries, said city spokesman Mark Kruea.
“I don’t think we suffered any significant damage at all,” he said. “We fared very well.”
Beaches were reopened before 10 a.m., roads were clear and crews were working to fix any power outages, he said. Kruea said the city took precautions for emergency responders during the coronavirus, and installed plexiglass sneeze guards in its control center and reduced staffing.
“We were ready for it,” he said, but added, “We’re ready for 2020 to be over.”
In North Myrtle Beach, a smaller city of approximately 17,000 people that juts out farther into the ocean, leaving it more exposed to the storm, city officials posted reports of debris, “substantial flooding” in coastal areas overnight, and motorists stranded in floodwaters, leading to several rescue calls and frustrating fire officials, who posted online exhortations to stay home.
North Myrtle Beach is about 15 miles up the curving coastline from Myrtle Beach. North Myrtle Beach Councilwoman Nicole Fontana said the storm downed trees and power lines, and some houses in low-lying areas were flooded.
“You hate to see damage any time,” she said. “People work hard for the things that they have and especially now during covid, money’s tight for people. It’s unfortunate some people have lost some of their lower parts of their houses.”
She said the storm packed a lot of power so early in the season, and she worried about hurricanes to come. Hurricane season ends Nov. 30 but is typically most intense in September.
“We’ve already got it in the back of our head,” she said. “This one last night — it was kind of early for this.”
New Bern, N.C., a city of 30,000 on the flood-prone Neuse and Trent rivers, escaped the storm with lower-than-expected wind gusts, some downed trees, and minor flooding downtown that is typical for that area, said city spokeswoman Colleen Roberts.
Approximately 7,600 customers — a third of the customer base — lost power around 3:30 a.m., the peak of the storm, but she said no serious damage or injuries were reported. Four people rode out the storm in a county-run shelter, but by 8 a.m. the shelters were closed and undergoing sanitizing because of the coronavirus. Crews had to clear about 20 trees and other debris from the roads, but by 9 a.m. traffic was moving freely, she said.
“We definitely fared well with this storm,” Roberts said, comparing it to Hurricane Florence, which blanketed the area in floodwaters two years ago and led to more than 700 water rescues. “I also think it gave us some good practice in navigating a severe weather event during a pandemic. Our planning, our logistics, our communications — everything seemed to go very well with our staff spread out and still being able to mitigate the effects of the storm.”
Officials opened 24-hour emergency operations centers as usual to monitor the storm, but kept staffing low and spread out among various government buildings and homes to avoid spreading the virus. In New Bern, about a dozen staffers — one from each major department such as the police, fire, and water departments — spent the night in the center. Normally 30 people would staff the building, but Roberts said they were able to handle logistics over radio and email.