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For citizens in eastern North Carolina, the flood of 1999 seems like only yesterday. Although three years have passed since Hurricane Floyd turned eastern North Carolina counties into a wasteland, some residents are still waiting for help. Others have relocated to areas above the flood plain and rebuilt on "higher ground"; still others were forced to move out of the area.
Produced by Donna Campbell, Higher Ground: Rebuilding Down East After the Flood tells the story of how Hurricane Floyd's victims are dealing with life in the new century. Viewers will recognize several families from Hard Rain: Lessons Learned from the Flood of '99, which aired in December 1999, and meet some new residents who tell stories of their experience, plus some of the relief workers who came to North Carolina from as far away as Ohio, Oklahoma and Canada to help residents rebuild—without monetary compensation.
"Thy fate is the common fate of all; into each life some rain must fall," recites Princeville resident Mrs. Baker from Princeville in an opening scene, as she remembers Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's words in 1803. One resident reflects on the fact that the flood was a "great equalizer," combining both rich and poor into a big family. Residents in other scenes reflect on how the disaster introduced them to neighbors who previously were strangers and to kindhearted people from other states who gave their time to the rebuilding effort.
Higher Ground begins in Princeville, where a crew of young adults from a Mennonite church in Canada has been helping resident Emma Smith rebuild her home.
"I thank God for 'em," she said. "And I appreciate everything that they've done for me."
Princeville was the subject of a fierce controversy for some time after the flood as state officials tried to decide what to do with the land. After residents protested against turning the land into a state park, groups of volunteers from around the state helped them rebuild the dyke around the town—30 feet higher—and slowly rebuild the houses that were destroyed.
Citizens in Tick Bite and Grifton talk about how the flood brought them together into a family. Many residents in Tick Bite started a support group and met for 3 years for "flood talk." Both towns have received much help as groups travel from the western part of the state to help rebuild. In Wilson and Trenton, residents who had little financially have been battling the legal system, while others, rich and poor, have been victims of federal buyout programs.
In Tarboro, the documentary revisits Tim and Piper Boyd, who received help not long after Hard Rain aired in December 1999. While they are now moving into a new house, the Boyds received more bad news a year ago when Tim was diagnosed with throat cancer.
The towns of Snow Hill and Wallace bring the story to its conclusion, as a Mexican couple relates their experience after the flood when they decided to stay even after most of the migrant farm workers left. In Wallace, an older man tells how much some young adults from Duplin County have helped him and many of the other residents. Former governor Jim Hunt offers his view on the rebuilding effort—reiterating how much the volunteers have helped rebuild most of eastern North Carolina.
"What's helped eastern North Carolina the most is the volunteers," he said. Voluntary labor certainly has been the main source of relief for eastern North Carolina, but much more work has yet to be done. Still, Higher Ground makes clear the capacity of people everywhere to travel somewhere and lend a hand, even when the kindness can't be repaid.