More flooding is coming to some riverside towns in North Carolina — where hundreds already are in shelters and a few thousand had to be rescued by boat and helicopter crews since Hurricane Matthew deluged the state over the weekend — Gov. Pat McCrory warned Tuesday.
Seventeen people have died in North Carolina as a result of the storm, McCrory said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference. At least 27 US deaths have been blamed on Matthew.
Flood warnings have been issued for parts of the Carolinas and extreme southeastern Virginia and Maryland at least into Tuesday night. Major rivers in North Carolina are expected to be above flood stage through much of the week.
But waterways haven’t crested in some areas, including the Tar River at Greenville, an east-central North Carolina city with about 89,000 people.
“I cannot stress (enough) to people, especially on the Tar River today, if we say the water is coming and we say do not drive through that water, we mean it,” McCrory said at a news conference.
Stay or go?
Many people in this part of the state know how deadly the floodwaters can be. They dealt with Hurricane Floyd’s devastation in 1999.
Myrna Deloatch escaped from her house in Tarboro with clothes, one car and three German shepherds, plus some pictures. That’s something she forgot when Floyd ruined her house.
And even though her house is inundated with water again, she says she won’t move. “We may get another flood but I will stay right there,” she said.
Karl Joyner of Tarboro isn’t sure that’s the best idea. The last time his house flooded, Joyner and his family were displaced for a year and a half.
He and his wife plan to move back in after the floodwaters drain away but he now believes there are too many uncertainties to stay tied to the family property.
“If FEMA comes by and asked us to move or sell,” he said, “this time, I will.”
Black River Basin flooding
Authorities went door-to-door to let about 500 people in the Black River Basin know a mandatory evacuation had been ordered, the Pender County government said Tuesday.
“A lot of folks in the flood area have been without power, so they have no idea what’s coming toward them,” said Tammy Proctor, county emergency management public affairs officer. She estimated floodwaters were rising 3-to-5 inches per hour.
The federal government has declared disasters in 31 of North Carolina’s 100 counties, McCrory said, allowing federal aid to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts.
One Johnson County resident person is missing, he said.
There were 190,175 customers without power in the state as of 6 p.m. ET Tuesday, North Carolina Emergency Management said on Twitter. That was down from about 500,000 the day before.
Flooding in Lumberton
More than 2,000 people have been rescued from high water by more than 70 boat crews, McCrory said. Many of them were from the deluged city of Lumberton in Robeson County, about 65 miles northwest of Wilmington.
Helicopters rescued others from roofs, including 26 people from Monday night into Tuesday morning, the governor said.
About 3,000 people in Robeson County were sent to shelters, but no precise number of those forced from their homes is available, county spokeswoman Kellie Blue said Monday.
Blue said ice and water were being shipped in because about 26,000 utility customers in the county lacked water.
Crews were working to repair water lines, but once water mains were fixed, another road was washed out, and lines burst again.
Homes, restaurants and business have been lost, she said.
“Our Board of Education is destroyed,” Blue said. “It’s completely underwater.”
‘This house has a lot of flood stories’
In Snow Hill, more than 100 miles northeast of Lumberton, 2 feet of water flooded Dail Reed’s two-story house. Facing the possibility of more flooding, he temporarily relocated to Grifton.
After Hurricane Floyd in 1999, Reed said, his mother had to be rescued by boat from the top floor of the family home after it took on 6 feet of water. His grandparents, who owned the house then, put on a new roof and raised the house a few feet after that storm.
Before Matthew moved through, Reed said, his family moved as many things as they could to the second floor, including heirlooms.
“This house has a lot of flood stories,” he said.
About two years ago, Reed said, frozen water pipes broke during a cold winter, flooding the house and causing $90,000 in damage. The family had just completed repairs when Matthew struck.
The family had recently dropped their flooding insurance for the first time.
“We’ve had all sorts of storms before and never had any problems,” he said.
Reed said his family can probably live upstairs and start work on repairs as long as the water doesn’t move above the first floor. If not, he will “buy the camper I always wanted” and live in it until his house can be restored.
In Goldsboro, the threat of flooding forced authorities to evacuate 797 inmates from the Neuse Correctional Institution to other prisons. The minimum-security facility for male inmates is near where the Little and Neuse rivers meet.
‘Get out now’
McCrory raised concerns about communities below Woodlake Dam in Moore County. Officials had ordered evacuations for the towns of Vass and Spring Lake, near the U.S. Army’s Fort Bragg, on Monday night because of a leak, WTVD-TV reported.
“Get out now,” the governor said Tuesday morning. “(We’re) hearing 50 to 60 people are refusing the evacuation order. That is unacceptable.
“You are not only putting your life in jeopardy, you are” also endangering rescuers, he said.
The dam was stabilized by Tuesday morning, and no further evacuations were planned, but risk assessments will continue, WRAL-TV reported.
Drownings after driving onto flooded roads
One person died in Lumberton after being shot by a sergeant with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, authorities said.
According to a news release from the state patrol, the sergeant and two Robeson County sheriff’s deputies were conducting search and rescue operations at 10 a.m. Monday when they encountered a man in a flooded section of town.
The man “became hostile towards the officers and displayed a handgun. After observing the handgun, the sergeant shot the man, who succumbed to his injuries,” the release said.
The trooper, identified as J. F. Hinson, has been placed on administrative duties, the patrol said. The State Bureau of Investigation is investigating the shooting. The slain person has not been identified.
Some of North Carolina’s fatalities included victims who drowned after driving onto flooded roads.
McCrory stressed Tuesday that many roads remain flooded and impassable, including a stretch of Interstate 95 near Cumberland. He urged people not to drive through high water.
“I’m distraught about the loss of life. … Our priority is to make sure we have no more loss of life.”
Florida reported four deaths from Matthew, and Georgia and South Carolina reported three each.
The US deaths came after Matthew devastated parts of the Caribbean, killing more than 300 people in Haiti, said Paul Altidor, Haitian ambassador to the United States. Others report much higher death tolls in that impoverished country.