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Mitigation In Action - Belhaven: Rising Above The Flood

Release date: 
November 19, 2003
Release Number: 
North Carolina: Mitigation in action - 1st in a 3-part series from » Part 1 - Belhaven
» Part 2 - Coastal Carolina
» Part 3 - Mitigation Education

A Belhaven home elevated to minimize potential flood damage.  FEMA Photo by Mark WolfeJean Bogun, Head Librarian in front of the new elevated library which was protected from the flood waters caused by Hurricane Isabel. Photo by Mark Wolfe/FEMA News Photo

A Belhaven home elevated to minimize potential flood damage.  FEMA Photo by Mark Wolfe
This elevated home shows that the beauty of a home does not have to suffer when elevated to protect the home from flooding. Photo by Mark Wolfe/FEMA News Photo
The first thing that usually strikes visitors who enter the small harbor town of Belhaven (population 1,900), North Carolina, is that many of the homes-whether trailer or mansion-are elevated high enough to protect them from floodwaters. The town did not always look like this.

As a coastal town in North Carolina, Belhaven has often been battered by severe storms and hurricanes. In the last eight years alone, it has been flooded by seven named storms and hurricanes, and absorbed tens of millions of dollars worth of damages.

The public buildings that were regularly hit included the town's elementary school, and the beloved-but low-lying-town library.

As far back as 1933, when children would be read to in the window of O'Neal's Drug Store, it was clear Belhaven needed a library. Still, it took almost two decades before a permanent library found a home on Main Street, just blocks from the picturesque Pantego Creek, which flows into the Pungo River. Since the town is located in the 100-year floodplain, the bungalow library remained in a vulnerable position for major flooding.

"From 1996 to 1998 our former library flooded six times," said branch librarian Joan Bogun. "Since we had outgrown it anyway, it only made sense to rebuild to survive future floods."

The whole town joined them in that determination-for the library, the elementary school, and their own private homes.

Taking Action
After the devastation of Hurricane Fran in 1996, Belhaven city officials were determined to take action. They started an aggressive mitigation campaign to elevate structures. They would use federal and state grant money where they could-and private money when the grant money ran out. "Our plan was to keep everybody out of harm's way," said Town Manager Tim M. Johnson.

Federal, state and city officials worked together on two projects in the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), which is administered by the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management (NC DEM) and funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The first project elevated 232 eligible residences, and the second pu...

Last Updated: 
January 3, 2018 - 12:51