NEW BERN, North Carolina — Todd Gratz steps out of his house and waves. “Are you the owner of the boat?”
He’s only half joking. Friday night, Tropical Storm Florence stranded a large sailboat in the backyard of his neighbor’s house, teetering on a pile of fallen branches and smashed fence. Since the rain stopped and the floodwaters receded, a few visitors have come by looking for missing boats, but this has always been the wrong one.
Their boats, apparently, were dumped somewhere else.
Gratz, 50, lives in one of the oldest neighborhoods in New Bern, one of the small coastal towns hit hardest in North Carolina by Florence. Floodwaters surged into the city streets on Friday night, crashing through homes and businesses and smashing doors, fences and at least one garage to pieces.
The city of about 22,000 sits on the banks of the Neuse and Trent rivers.
The storm also flipped and sunk boats in a New Bern marina and stranded a few others on shore. And residential streets were lined with piles of timber – remnants of docks that had been thrown into neighborhoods.
'It's never been this high before'
Kathy Wilbur, who lives down the street from Gratz, had her dock torn clear from her backyard.
“It’s to be expected with water this high,” she said. “But, it’s never been this high before.”
A few houses away, Jeremiah Downes, 45, heaved a sopping wet welcome mat into a heap of debris in front of his house. Inside, his wife was mopping mud out of their living room.
“It’s just a soggy mess,” Downes said. "But it's just stuff, so you leave it behind."
Downes and his wife evacuated from New Bern on Thursday night, before the storm hit, then returned to find 2 inches of standing water in the house. Most of the damage is superficial, he said, he’s still kicking himself for one mistake: He forgot to rescue some photos his grandfather brought back from World War I. Now they are destroyed.
Despite the widespread damage, residents of New Bern showed little doubt the town would rebuild. After all, this is not their first storm.
“We’ve been through Fran, Bertha, Floyd, Matthew, Irene and Dennis,” said Tommy Debut, a 30-year New Bern resident. “And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”