Updated at 8:28 p.m.

Storms have come and gone in Al Hill's 64 years, and not once before this had floodwaters from the nearby Newport River intruded upon his family home.

That run of luck ended with Hurricane Florence.

As Florence made landfall in coastal North Carolina last week, she pushed water back up the Newport River that flows behind Hill's home.

The Hills had heeded the warnings to flee ahead of Florence and waited the storm out in Gainesville, Georgiaa. They returned this week and discovered damage unlike any Al Hill has seen on the 20 acres that have been in his family for decades.

"I grew up here," Hill said. "I was a baby when Hazel came through."

Hazel brought nothing compared to this. The storm surge flooded four feet into the first floor of the Hill home, lapping at the kitchen counter tops and floating the refrigerator onto its side.

On Wednesday, Al Hill worked alongside his son, friends and neighbors to gut the home before the mold could set in.

"Everything we owned in furniture is gone," he said. So is the remodeled bathroom with its new soaking tub, already bought and paid for. So is the brand-new heat pump, not even close to paid for.

Gov. Roy Cooper came to Carteret County to survey storm damage, and there was too much of it to take in. Local firefighters pointed to neighborhoods not far from their station that appear to have been thrashed by tornadoes spawned by the hurricane. Long stretches of power lines sagged under the weight of leaning pines. Manicured lawns became heaps of sodden, stinking debris as homeowners picked through their belongings for the little that might be worth saving.

“Communities like this one have been stunned at the breadth of the damage that has been done,” Cooper said outside the Newport firehouse.

He said President Donald Trump has pledged the full support of the federal government as the state recovers from devastation, and he promised to hold the president to his word as the cleanup from Florence stretches into what surely will be months.

“North Carolinians are strong,” he said. “North Carolinians are resilient.”

Cooper said 13 rivers in the state remained at major flood stage Wednesday, 7,800 people remained in shelters, and nearly 200,000 were still without power. Farmers are reporting massive losses around the state, and Cooper said they will need "more than a farm bill" if they are to survive.

“They have taken a gut punch,” he said.

So have the residents of Newport, like Erica and Marvin Willis and their 4-year-old daughter, Emma. The family stayed put on Friday as the Newport River, about a half-mile away, spilled over its banks and closed in on their neighborhood off of Nine Foot Road. The river was well into their yard by noon, but it was also high tide. The water would retreat as the tide fell, they reasoned.

The water didn't follow reason. It kept coming despite the low tide, and Marvin made the decision about 5:30 p.m.

"You have five minutes," he told his wife. "Pack a bag. We're leaving."

They fled in his truck, with the water up to its hood. Left in the garage was her brand new car.

"I hadn't even made the first payment on it," she said.

They stayed with family and returned to the house Tuesday without Emma. She didn't need to see her home destroyed, her mother said.

"She knows that all her toys are gone and that they sank with the house," she said.

At Cooper's press conference, officials hailed the multi-agency response to the storm and urged residents to call FEMA.

But out in the community, residents like Erica Willis were growing frustrated with the red tape already spooling around their rubber-booted feet. A FEMA representative, she said, told her the agency would call back in 7 to 10 days to schedule a visit, and advised her to leave the house as it was until then.

"I'm not going to have a health hazard in my house because you want to take 10 days to call," she said.

Just as aggravating, she said, were the insurance companies that seem determined to help her family as little as possible. She said she feels like she and her husband are fighting on every front, all while trying to salvage their belongings, care for their daughter, and cover their mortgage while finding somewhere else to live.

There was frustration too over at the Hill house, where Al Hill -- after years of paying premiums -- couldn't get his insurance company to call him back. His son, Matt, was irked too. Rather than leave their growing mountain of garbage on the roadside to be picked up who-knows-when, they were hauling it themselves the county dump. And the dump, he said, wouldn't waive its fees.

They piled what could be saved on the front porch, but it wasn't much.

"You want to hold onto stuff, but you know it's ruined," Al Hill said.

An armload of clothing was among the belongings salvaged by Erica Willis. The outfits had been hung high in the house, and now they sat on the back seat of the truck that had carried them to safety.

She looked at the rumpled pile, which included some of her daughter's princess dresses.

"I don't have a closet or a room or a house to hang it in," she said.

To help residents begin the rebuilding process, Carteret County is reopening their planning department offices and waiving permit fees.

The Western Carteret Planning and Development Office resumed normal business hours at 8 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19. The Beaufort Planning and Development Office resumed normal business hours at 8 a.m. Thursday.

Permits are still required for all work that would normally require a permit during non-emergency conditions. However, Carteret County will waive permit fees for storm damage repairs for an undetermined period of time.


North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said this afternoon that President Donald Trump has pledged the full support of the federal government as the state recovers from devastation wrought by Hurricane Florence.

At a news conference in the Carteret County town of Newport, Cooper told a small crowd of residents and local first responders that the state is in for a long haul but will bounce back.

"North Carolinians are strong," he said. "North Carolinians are resilient."

"Communities like this one have been stunned at the breadth of the damage that has been done," he said.

He said 13 rivers in the state remain at major flood stage, 7,800 people remain in shelters, and nearly 200,000 are without power.

Cooper said Trump told him during their meeting earlier Wednesday that "the federal government has pledged its 100 percent support" to the state. Cooper promised to hold the president to that commitment in the months to come, saying no part of the state has been left unaffected by the storm's wind and days of rain.

He said farmers will need "more than a farm bill" if they are to survive the massive losses being reported around the state.

"They have taken a gut punch," he said.