WHITEVILLE, NC—The historic hurricane that battered North Carolina in September showed what community newspapers could do in the face of adversity.
At the family-owned Whiteville News Reporter, Publisher Les High and his staff went through extraordinary lengths to make sure the semi-weekly paper got out on time.
“We lost power early on,” High said. A temporary berm set up by the local energy company around the town’s electrical substation was quickly overwhelmed by the heavy rains. “They told us to expect 27 inches, and that’s what we got.”
High and his staff prepared as much as they could as Hurricane Florence slowly approached the North Carolina coast. At one point, it was a category four storm with winds in excess of 140 mph.
“There was high confidence it would hit us,” High said. Normally, hurricanes coming in from the Atlantic roll up the coast. “This one T-boned us. It slammed into Wilmington on the coast and then rolled over us.” By that time, Florence had been downgraded to a category one storm, but it was extremely slow moving. High estimated that most hurricanes go through in six to eight hours. Florence took three days to pass.
They faced a similar storm two years ago when Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina. The News-Reporter covers Whiteville in the heart of Columbus County.
“We’re the third largest county in the state and very rural—with a population of about 50,000,” he said.
They put out their Friday, Sept. 14 paper before the storm. Three rivers run through the county, and because of all the rain, roads became flooded.