Politics

Where Congress Will Hunker Down for Hurricane Florence

Rep. Walter Jones remembers another storm that walloped the North Carolina coast

Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., speaks with reporters in Statuary Hall in May 2017. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

As lawmakers scramble to ensure federal and local organizations are prepared to handle the fallout from Hurricane Florence later this week, they’ve also begun crafting their own personal plans for the Category 3 storm.

This isn’t Rep. Walter Jones’ first test against a hurricane. The longtime North Carolina Republican’s vault of storm memories dates back some 66 years, to 1954 in his hometown of Farmville, North Carolina, just outside Greenville.

“I’m 75 now, and when I was 11 ... we had Hurricane Hazel,” Jones said.

Back then, because there were fewer modes of communication, people living close to the ocean didn’t have as good of an idea of just how devastating the storm was going to be.

“We had no technology,” Jones said. “All you had was telephones and radios and a little bit of TV.”

When Hazel hit the North Carolina shoreline on Oct. 15, 1954, it knocked out the local power grids, tore homes from their foundations, and felled native coastal cedar, oak and cherry trees. Dozens of people in the U.S. died.

Some experts have predicted Florence could rival Hazel’s power by the time it makes landfall.

“Hazel stands as a benchmark storm in North Carolina’s history,” Jay Barnes, an author of books on the hurricane histories of both North Carolina and Florida, told CBS News.

Farmville still stands after weathering dozens of tropical cyclones in the years since 1954. Something else has remained in Farmville, too — Jones.

This week, as the clouds gray and the wind whips, the congressman will hunker down in Farmville with his wife of 52 years, Joe Anne, their Wheaten Terrier Darby, and their twin Siamese cats, Buddha and Sadat — the latter named after former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1978 after agreeing to peace accords with Israel Prime Minister Menachem Begin, brokered by U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

“Here I am this many years later,” Jones said.

Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said that his house in Richmond should avoid Florence’s most powerful throes, but he is preparing for a power outage, something that has happened a lot when a big storm hits.

His main concern lies with his in-laws.

“My wife’s parents are 95 and 92. They live in a retirement community that’s down right near the Chesapeake Bay. They will tend to get hit harder by rain and flooding events than we will,” Kaine said.

Kaine’s in-laws live two miles off the coast, which should insulate their building from any flooding. But he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of scooping them from the community and driving them back to his and his wife’s house.

“They’ll probably be fine in that community, but that’s the kind of thing that we’re grappling with right now,” Kaine said. “We’re going to see. We may go down and pick them up tomorrow or Friday.”

Lawmakers in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and now Georgia are working overtime to help their states and constituents prepare for the storm.

Kaine made rounds with officials at a tour of the Federal Emergency Management Agency building in Washington on Wednesday to make sure the agency had all the resources it needed to help with the imminent recovery effort.

Jones has spoken with state and local officials on a series of conference calls over the last couple days about what they’re doing to prepare for the storm and relief program. His district office is preparing to distribute resources to constituents as well.

It’s been a “whirlwind” ensuring that everyone on the Carolina coast is evacuated and receiving the right cautionary information, South Carolina GOP Sen. Tim Scott said Wednesday.

Scott said he’s been touching base with emergency management officials and other local organizations in Charleston to monitor the evacuation, and, after the storm subsides, plan the recovery effort.

This isn’t a new experience for Scott.

“Being from the Charleston area, I’ve seen firsthand the damage hurricanes can bring to our shores,” he said.

The real work begins after the storm, he indicated. Even through the heaps of wreckage and devastation, he’s always inspired by his constituents’ perseverance.

“Almost always, it’s just the beginning,” he said of the storms his state has faced.

But, he added, it’s “humbling to see people helping people in the aftermath of a storm, especially ones that are as catastrophic as Florence could be. Friends, families, neighbors, strangers — all with one goal to help each other get back on their feet.” 

 

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.