Along the North Carolina Coast, Small Towns Wrestle With Resilience

Hammered by hurricanes and confronting rising seas, North Carolina’s barrier islands and coastal communities are on the front lines of climate change.

Hurricane Florence destruction in New Bern, North Carolina. Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
After the devastation of Hurricane Florence in 2018, small towns along the North Carolina coast are struggling to plan for future resilience. Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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SWANSBORO, North Carolina—Peering past the flowers, hearts and Valentine’s Day gifts on display at downtown Swansboro’s Through The Looking Glass store, a visitor can still see signs of the flood from 2018’s Hurricane Florence.

Caught off Guard

A gap in the historic molding next to the door, for instance, sits exactly four feet off the ground, indicating where owners David Pinsky and Hal Silver cut away sodden sheetrock and tore out damp insulation. 

“We’re back open and doing like we should, but still that’s a lot to recover and a lot to recoup,” Pinsky said. The store is still trying to replace about $30,000 in inventory it lost during the flood, he said.

When Florence arrived, Swansboro was in the midst of a vulnerability assessment, so leaders can use data from that storm to see where they could improve drainage. But it’s harder for small towns like this one to map out strategies to protect against rising waters when they also have to focus on maintaining basic services. 

Even if they do plan to protect themselves against flooding, they find it hard to find the funds to bring their ideas to reality, The News & Observer found, as part of a regional collaboration with InsideClimate News called “Caught Off Guard: Southeast Struggles with Climate Change.” 


This story was published as part of a collaborative project organized by InsideClimate News involving nine newsrooms across seven states. The project was led by Louisville, Ky.-based James Bruggers of InsideClimate News, who leads the Southeast regional hub of ICN’s Environmental Reporting Network