Neuse River flooding in New Bern from Hurricane Florence
The first time Tim Thomas saw the inside of the old bar building, there was still mud on the walls and floor from where the Neuse River came inside after Hurricane Matthew two years ago.
He bought the building anyway. What were the chances that the Neuse would flood that badly again, he reasoned, and he loved the location, overlooking a wooded stretch of the river just off U.S. 117 on the edge of town.
“It was just such a pretty damn place,” Thomas said. “You can’t beat the view.”
So after about six months of cleanup and renovation work, Wish You Were Beer Tavern opened on Aug. 17, followed by a “grand opening” three weeks later featuring a Hank Williams Jr. tribute band.
On Tuesday, Thomas and his 24-year-old daughter Alyce, the head bartender, returned for the first time since Hurricane Florence to see what the Neuse had done. It’s a scene playing out at thousands of homes and businesses throughout Eastern North Carolina; as the floodwaters recede and people get back in to see what they can salvage, what they need to throw away and what it will take to rebuild.
The Neuse River spilled into low-lying parts of Goldsboro, blocking roads and dislodging caskets in Elmwood Cemetery. The river crested late last week about twice its normal depth, a little less than 2 feet shy of the record set by Hurricane Matthew.
On Tuesday, the air was dank outside Wish You Were Beer and the ground still muddy or slicked with standing water. A dead fish lay outside the back door. Alyce Thomas’ mud-covered Honda Civic sat in a corner of the parking lot where it had been completely submerged; she had intended to come get it after helping board up the family home in Surf City but wasn’t able to make it back.
The water had gotten about 2.5 feet deep in the main part of the bar, and nearly 4 feet in an adjacent room where the pool table is. The walk-in cooler had been dislodged from behind the bar’s office; when Alyce opened the door, she found warm cans of beer strewn about and moldy jello shots.
Scottie Johnson of Regional Amusements stopped by to check on the company’s equipment and empty the money from the ATM machine, the video games and the jukebox. He said the company might be able to salvage some parts from the foosball table but explained to Thomas why the pool table needed to go even though it didn’t look too bad.
“There’s going to be so much mold on it,” Johnson said. “It will smell so bad you’ll want to throw it in the river.”
Thomas was pressure washing inside and cleaning with mold killer; he planned to bring in two large dehumidifiers on Wednesday. The building’s air conditioning units are perched on the walls outside the building, above the flood waters, and they were working. Had they been on the ground and flooded, Thomas doubts he would consider reopening.
Thomas said the building was originally a house that was converted to a bait and tackle shop with a small bar in the back. The bar eventually grew and thrived as Whiskey Dick’s Saloon until Matthew. He painted the building bright yellow and considered calling the place Yellow Submarine “because it had been in the water so many times.”
Thomas expects it will take a couple of weeks to get the bar clean and dry and restocked to open. He doesn’t know how much it will cost him. Because he didn’t think the river could possibly get in to the bar again, he has no flood insurance.
“Flood insurance looked kind of expensive. It looks cheap now,” he said. “These 500-year floods come too often.”