NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Tragically, many people already know that the real damage from Hurricane Florence came in the days and weeks after the storm passed. For one of the county’s liquor stores, weeks of sewage-laden flooding, humidity, and mold did far more damage than the storm’s wind.
The Castle Hayne ABC sustained comparatively mild damage from Florence’s wind gusts, but flooding reached nearly two feet inside the store. Add to that to sewage back-up that turned floodwaters into a noxious and potentially dangerous stew – one that sat inside the store for days in high heat and high humidity.
The store sits on a flood-prone road and, on top of a host of other logistical difficulties, impassable roads meant it was a long time before ABC’s contracted renovation company, Wilmington-based Paul Davis Restorations, could get inside the store.
When they did, they had to wear hazmat suits.
According to Queen, who donned her own hazmat suit went she inspected the store, calling the post-storm conditions unsanitary would be a gross understatement.
“If you walked in there, you wouldn’t believe it,” Marnina Queen, chief executive officer of the New Hanover ABC, said. “There was so much mold on all the bottles.”
It wasn’t that ABC hadn’t planned ahead. In the days leading up to the storm, back-stock had been removed from warehouses – including at the Castle Hayne location – and the lower shelves had been cleared.
“That’s the thing, the water never touched the bottles,” Queen said. “We got everything up about waist-high. But the humidity was so intense.”
Queen said she doesn’t know if the sewage exacerbated the situation, or if it only required standing water, humidity, and time. In any case, mold had completely covered some bottles.
“With the mold, and the sewer water being in there, there was no real way to clean the bottles,” Queen said.
ABC discussed the issue with the county and state health department, and the ABC Commission’s insurance company, and determined there was “no real way to clean the bottles without destroying the labels,” Queen said. She also said she had concerns about the safety of leaving bottles behind to mingle with clean ones.
“My biggest thing was safety for anyone who bought something from that store,” Queen said. “I didn’t feel comfortable with one bottle staying in there.”
That meant the bottles had to be destroyed. But how? Turns out, by hand.
“By state law, we had to dump out all of the bottles. The restoration team was in there, in hazmat suits, and they hand-dumped them out. Every one. Even the airplane bottles,” Queen said.
The alcohol was dumped into barrels for disposal and the bottles – now empty – were sent for recycling.
In total, $138,435.57 was destroyed. Queen declined to provide an exact inventory of what was lost, but did address the issue on many bourbon-lovers’ minds.
“No, we didn’t lose any Pappy Van Winkle,” Queen said.
In fact, those who might have risked a mold-related respiratory infection rather than see their favorite top-shelf spirit poured into a barrel can rest easy. Queen said the Castle Hayne location doesn’t carry the same stock of specialty items as some of the county’s larger stores. The top-shelf liquor that was at the store – high-end tequila, bourbon, scotch whisky, etc. – was removed ahead of time.
As for the more unassuming, but certainly serviceable, alcohol, the ABC Commission’s insurance company covered the damages.
Queen did say there was “happier news in the future,” with the Castle Hayne store preparing to restock during early May and reopen in the third week of May. The ABC Commission’s long-term plans are to eventually move the Castle Hayne store to a location in Wrightsboro, eventually selling the Castle Hayne property.
According to Queen, the new location at the intersection of Castle Hayne Road and North Kerr Avenue promises to fit the needs of the developing region, as well as offering more room and safer access for drivers (the left turn towards Pender County out of the Castle Hayne location, Queen noted, can be treacherous as best at rush hour).
The ABC Commission will undertake soil testing before moving forward with the Wrightsboro location, Queen said.
Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at firstname.lastname@example.org, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001