1 year ago, Hurricane Florence came crashing into the North Carolina coast

Chaffin Mitchell

A year after deadly Hurricane Florence battered the Carolinas, businesses and residents are still putting the pieces back together, as blue tarps continue to come down from roofs and businesses reopen after months of being closed.

Florence slammed ashore near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, early on Friday, Sept. 14, as a Category 1 storm. The hurricane then proceeded to hover over southeastern North Carolina, dumping torrential rain and lashing the coast with powerful winds before it slowly lurched inland.

Some of the top rainfall totals in North Carolina were nothing short of astonishing: 35.93 inches fell in Elizabethtown; 34 inches fell in Swansboro; and Gurganus was inundated with 30.38 inches, according to National Weather Service data. And three places recorded peak wind gusts in excess of 100 mph: Cape Lookout sustained a gust of 106 mph and Wilmington and Fort Macon each took a lashing from a 105-mph top gust.

Florence covered this portion of Surf City's North Shore Drive in sand between Jones Avenue and Craven Avenue. (NWS / Carl Morgan)
Florence covered this portion of Surf City's North Shore Drive in sand between Jones Avenue and Craven Avenue. (NWS / Carl Morgan)

Florence was blamed for 22 direct fatalities, according to a NOAA report, 17 of which were due to freshwater flooding. Four were killed by high winds, and another death was blamed on a tornado spawned by Florence. Another 30 indirect deaths were blamed on the hurricane.

Hurricane Florence also stirred up a catastrophic storm surge, particularly in Surf City, North Carolina. The surge destroyed sand dunes there and dragged sand from the beach more than two blocks inland. Some of the most stunning images from the Florence aftermath showed sand deposits as high as 4- to 5-feet-tall left in the streets after the surge receded -- and, in some cases, inside of homes. The storm surge also ripped off about a 150-foot-long section of the Surf City pier and accounted for significant coastal erosion.

The storm's slow march led to a long road of recovery to fix destroyed roofs and water damage. Hurricanes that followed Florence, such as Dorian, have delayed the recovery process even more.

North Carolinians were saddled with more than $18 billion in damages statewide from Florence, according to the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management.

In this Sept. 15, 2018, photo, floodwaters from Hurricane Florence inundate the town of Engelhard, N.C. Small business owners whose companies were hit by Hurricane Florence are embarking on what will be for many an uncertain path, recovering and getting their businesses up and running again. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

Florence victims struggled to find qualified construction workers for months, due to the extensive damage left by Florence's record-setting rain. A year later, some houses and apartment complexes remain vacant as repairs continue.

"We have been through many storms, but what was different was the amount of time the storm stayed over New Hanover County and the amount of rain," Wrightsville Beach Mayor Bill Blair said in an interview with AccuWeather.

Blair explained that the damage was worse than it appeared at first because mold quickly engulfed many structures, which left many residents reeling for weeks after the storm pulled out.

"Many businesses and hotels lost significant time and revenue, and we lost tourist traffic for an extended time, which negatively impacted the town overall. We still to this day have several buildings that have not been repaired," Blair said.

The public safety building as well as parks and recreation buildings sustained significant damage and have not been completely repaired yet, according to Blair.

In this combination of photos, water inundates a street on Sept. 15, 2018, left, and on Sept. 19, 2018, after the water receded in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, N.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

"The return to the beach for residents and businesses went smoothly. Although there was more damage than previously thought, the people on the beach worked hard to get back to business in spite of the adversity," Blair said.

During the storm, a historic Wrightsville Beach resort, the Blockade Runner, lost the roof of one of its buildings, which left the business without guests for months.

"Aside from Hurricane Hazel in 1954, Hurricane Florence is the largest storm Wrightsville Beach has had as far as property destruction is concerned," Bill Baggett of the Baggett family, owners of Blockade Runner, told Salt Magazine.

The resort lost close to $10 million, and the Baggetts told Salt Magazine many repairs aren't noticeable to their guests. The majority of repairs fixed roofing, walls, insulation and utilities inside the walls.

Florence's historic rainfall led to catastrophic river flooding for many communities in the Carolinas. Some towns were left underwater for weeks.

Baggett told Salt Magazine that hurricane losses were put into three categories. These include damage to buildings and property, loss of content and loss of business during repairs. The total loss overall was close to $10 million, he said.

After having their windows blown out, Shell Island Resort on Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina experienced extreme water intrusion, according to Lumina News. The resort was closed for half of a year as it faced challenge after challenge.

"Water intrusion is very sneaky, you don't know where it lingers," Shell Island Resort general manager Dara Newberry said in an interview with Lumina News earlier this year. "As we inspected the damage, the scope just continued to grow."

In this combination of photos, a man tries to cross a flooded street on Sept. 14, 2018, left, and on Sept. 19, 2018, after the water receded in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, N.C. (AP Photos/Chuck Burton)

While hotels and resorts were left vacant, restaurants were left with spoiled food from the extensive power outage.

Shelley Musleh, the general manager at Osteria Cicchetti, a restaurant in Wilmington, told AccuWeather workers took measures to save as much food as possible, and they worked on cleaning, unplugging and bagging their computer systems, but Florence still got the best of them.

"Fortunately, our location fared very well, but we had obviously lost power for four to five days and the food loss was huge," Musleh said.

Musleh told AccuWeather that the biggest struggle was getting staff back to the restaurant, as there were many evacuees that could not return. Musleh added that being closed was not good for business.

A composite radar loop of Hurricane Florence making landfall. The general direction of the storm was toward the west, but it made a pronounced southward wobble that happened at landfall.  This loop shows Florence runs from the late afternoon of September 13 through late afternoon of September 14, 2018.

"The sense of community in Wilmington post-storm was exceptional, but it felt like we would never return to normal. There were limited menus, half our normal staff, and so many guests to feed each night," Musleh said.

Across the region, state and local officials are working on transportation and infrastructure projects to try to fortify the Wilmington area against future storm events.

A major roadway bridge that was washed out by Hurricane Florence on Highway 421 near Wilmington will soon be passable for drivers getting to and from Wilmington almost a year following the storm, WRAL reports.

Chicken farm buildings are inundated with floodwater from Hurricane Florence near Trenton, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Many North Carolina farmers walked away from farming in the wake of Florence, and farmers who didn't quit the business were frantic as Dorian closed in on the coast since they have yet to fully recover from Florence.

According to CNBC, Florence did more than $1.1 billion in crop damage and livestock losses to North Carolina's agriculture sector, topping Matthew's $400 million hit to the agriculture sector in 2016.

Despite being struck by Dorian less than a year later, in just under 12 months since tangling with Florence, these communities have shown they will always persevere and make a comeback no matter how long it takes.