N.C. Department of Correction--Correction News--October 1998

Bonnie batters the coast

Staff and inmates help communities clean up the damage

Business as usual ground to a halt for prisons along North Carolina’s coast the last week in August as Hurricane Bonnie made her way to shore. By Tuesday, Aug. 25, prisons in the eastern part of the state had emergency preparations in place and were ready for the worst. Staff were assigned to work 12-hour shifts, generators were readied, community work squads were on standby and preparations had been made for food and water. Then the wait began.

Although Bonnie had decided to visit North Carolina, she was in no hurry to get here.Then after finally arriving, she was in no hurry to leave.

Neuse Correctional Institution squad
works in Johnston County tobacco field.

For three long days, she battered the coastline before making her final exit Friday Aug. 28. Through it all, many staff members remained at their prisons rather than riding out the storm at home with their families.

"As director, I have been so proud of the staff in the Division of Prisons," Dan Stieneke said. "From the time the hurricane first started entering the southern coast – and this was a long hurricane – we had staff coming to work to supervise the inmates and take care of the physical plants while their families were at home during the blowing winds of the hurricane. I am just very impressed with the dedication of these staff members during this storm."

Mike Bell, superintendent at Pender Correctional Institution, was one of those who elected to ride out the storm at the prison with his correctional staff. He said, looking back, he is glad that he did because it gave him the opportunity to see his staff in action during a very stressful and trying event.

"I applaud those employees whose professionalism and dedication to duty saw them report

to work and remain at work under such adverse conditions," he said. "Those who volunteered to stay even though they would have preferred to go home to their families and homes, those who stated, in no uncertain terms, that they were here as long as they were needed – and did so without gripe or complaint."

Despite being a long storm, those who had been in the path of the hurricane agreed that Bonnie was nothing like Hurricane Fran who caused widespread damage to many North Carolina homes and communities in 1996.

"If you’ve got to have a hurricane, this one was better than some," said Larry Snead, superintendent of New Hanover Correctional Center after the storm had left Wilmington. "We have a lot of tired staff and inmates, but no major damage – just some shingles and siding that blew off and a tree on a fence."

The cleanup begins

Although damage to our prisons and to communities throughout eastern North Carolina was minimal, Bonnie did leave her mark on the state. In her wake, thousands of tires washed ashore littering beaches from Atlantic Beach to Emerald Isle, tobacco lay flattened in the fields and tree limbs and other debris were scattered everywhere.

Before prison managers and correctional officers could rest up from the long hours spent preparing for and riding out the storm, they began sending out inmate work squads to help clean up the damage.

For a solid week following the storm, correctional officers and prisoner work crews helped farmers and communities clean up the damage caused by Hurricane Bonnie, working day-in and day-out, even over the weekend.

"In the aftermath of Hurricane Bonnie, I have been extremely impressed with our inmate work crews and the supervisors of these work crews," Stieneke said. "They worked 12-hour days, without complaint and, often, in very trying conditions. In some areas, it was extremely hot with heat indexes over 105 degrees."

The day after Hurricane Bonnie made landfall, the department sent out eight inmate work crews to help remove debris in communities along the coast. As the week went on, the number of work crews continued to increase, reaching 102 crews with more than 1,000 inmates at the height of the cleanup effort.

Inmates and staff from more than 29 of the state’s prisons and the IMPACT program participated in the cleanup effort, with some coming from as far away as Wilkes, Caldwell and Catawba counties to help clean up. The Dan River Prison Work Farm in Yanceyville, alone, sent 100 inmates and 10 staff members to the coast to assist with the cleanup efforts.

Chris DeBause, a captain from Dan River said the staff and inmates arrived at the coast on the Monday following the storm and didn’t leave until Friday. Correction staff stayed in hotels in Havelock while the inmates were housed at Carteret and Neuse correctional centers. Although they were away from home for an entire week, working 13-hour days, DeBause said the staff had no complaints.

"All of the staff here really enjoy helping out any time that we can," he said.

Correction Secretary Mack Jarvis said he was impressed with the staff’s response to Gov. Jim Hunt’s request for help in cleaning up after the storm.

"We are very appreciative of our correction staff who worked so hard following the storm – many who had to spend long stretches of time away from their homes and families in order to provide these services to the state," he said.

Throughout the week, work crews helped farmers shore up tobacco that had been knocked over by the storm’s high winds and rain.

Other work crews concentrated their efforts in communities along the coast hardest hit by the storm. Inmates picked up tree limbs, shingles and siding, cleared sand from roads and erected sand fencing in several coastal counties.

Another 100 inmates from Dan River and Carteret Correctional Center spent several days on the beaches from Fort Macon to Emerald Isle picking up approximately 20,000 tires that had washed ashore from an artificial reef.

Tired correctional officers and prison work crews finally got a break Labor Day weekend, but many resumed cleanup efforts the following week. As crews from Dan River, Catawba, Caldwell and Wilkes returned home, more crews from Guilford, Davidson and Forsyth prepared to make the trip east to continue the cleanup effort.

"Without the positive, can-do attitude of all the inmates and staff involved in the cleanup effort, things would not have gone so smoothly," said Duncan Daughtry, superintendent of Carteret Correctional Center. "I’ve talked with town managers all up and down the coast, and they were ecstatic with our efforts. I just can’t say enough good things about everyone involved." u

Probation Officers
Pitch in

Eight probation and parole officers from Judicial District 5 in Wilmington went to Carolina Beach to assist police officers during the hurricane.

The probation officers provided various services from working at the police dispatch office handling incoming calls, patrolling the beach area, conducting road blocks and check points to keep people out of unauthorized areas, and assisting citizens as needed.

Those participating were JDM Terry Gootee, Kelly Webb, Mark Pittman, Milinda Murrill, Pam Grissom, Gerry Rojas and Rodney Smith.

"Much thanks is given to these officers who left their families to assist the community during this trying time," Gootee said. u


Special thanks to the staff and inmates at the following prisons who helped cleanup after Hurricane Bonnie:

  • Bladen
  • Caldwell
  • Carteret
  • Catawba
  • Dan River
  • Davidson
  • Duplin
  • Durham
  • Forsyth
  • Fountain
  • Gates
  • Greene
  • Guilford
  • Hyde
  • McCain
  • Neuse
  • Nash
  • New Hanover
  • Odom
  • Pasquotank
  • Orange
  • Robeson
  • Sandhills
  • Sanford
  • Scotland
  • Tillery
  • Tyrrell
  • Umstead
  • Wilkes

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