As It Happens

This N.C. alderwoman has been going door to door, rescuing people from flooded homes

Jameesha Harris, an alderwoman in New Bern, N.C., has been wading through chest-deep water, knocking on doors and trying to convince people to flee their homes for higher land.

'I was ready to risk it because I wanted them to get to safety,' says Jameesha Harris of New Bern

Jameesha Harris, an alderwoman in New Bern, N.C., has been working to co-ordinate rescue efforts amid Hurricane Florence. (Jameesha Harris/Facebook, Gray Whitley/Sun Journal via AP)

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Jameesha Harris, an alderwoman in New Bern, N.C., has been wading through chest-deep water, helping people flee their homes for higher ground.

"I represent a community where I know these individuals are very prideful and they didn't want to get out, so I ... just layered myself in clothes and covered my head and knocked door to door and begged people to get out," Harris told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

"When you're so emotional, you're just thinking about these elderly people and these babies. At that point, I was ready to risk it because I wanted them to get to safety."

Hurricane Florence lumbered ashore in North Carolina with howling winds and a powerful storm surge on Friday before being downgraded to a tropical storm. It has ripped apart buildings, knocking out power to nearly half a million homes and businesses, and killed at least four people as of Friday evening.

Jamie Thompson walks through flooded sections of East Front Street near Union Point Park in New Bern, N.C. on Thursday. (Gray Whitley/Sun Journal via AP)

Harris took to the low-lying areas of New Bern on Thursday and Friday with her husband, driving through three feet of water in her Honda CR-V to reach some of the town's most vulnerable residents and get them to safety.

She said they were able to personally rescue 13 families over the last two days, including a mother and father with a seven-month-old baby girl.

By Friday afternoon, she said the waters had risen so high they had to ditch the Honda for her friend Buddy Bengel's monster truck.

Some folks have hunkered down to wait out Florence, she said, while others have no means to leave on their own because they are elderly, disabled, or have no access to gas or a vehicle. 

"I had people that they were adamant that they weren't going to leave and then two hours later they found me on Facebook and inboxed me and said, 'I just want to thank you so much for your speech. We decided to pack some of our stuff and get out,'" she said. 

"I was not able to sleep, so that really made me feel better that people took heed to what I was saying to get out because it was going get worse and, you know, it's just a blessing that they listened."

The situation, she said, is dire. 

"We had to tell our staff to stop rescuing people last night because it was so dark and the winds were so bad that we didn't want to risk the lives of first responders. Once we got daybreak and the winds started slowing down, we were able to get people back out," she said. 

"There have been reports where people were on their roof for about five hours with this rain non-stop with their kids last night."

A man rides his bike as Hurricane Florence comes ashore in New Bern. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

She said several community members with boats have voluntarily joined the rescue efforts. 

They're also getting help from the Cajun Navy, a grassroots network of hunters, fishers and boaters from the along U.S. Gulf Coast that formed in New Orleans in 2005 in response to Hurricane Katrina. 

"We have come together tremendously as a community like no other right now. It's just amazing what's going on. I mean, the scene, it's catastrophic right now."

Harris said she got most of her own family out of town earlier this week, but decided to stay behind with her husband to help. 

"I realized that as an elected official, I have to be here when the aftermath is here," she said.

The floodwaters have since reached her home on Friday, and she's had to put her own rescue efforts aside. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Associated Press. Produced by Sarah Jackson. 


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