In wake of hurricane, chaos lingers in North Carolina
LUMBERTON, N.C. — With floodwaters from Hurricane Matthew on the rise, at least one North Carolina city appeared near chaos Monday, its police station shuttered and reports of sporadic gunfire in the air, and authorities worried that more communities could end up the same way.
The storm is gone, but it left behind a water-logged landscape where flooding was expected to persist for the rest of the week. At least three rivers were forecast to reach record levels, some not cresting until Friday. In many areas, the scene resembled a repeat of Hurricane Floyd, which caused $3 billion in damage and destroyed 7,000 homes as it skirted the coast in 1999.
Officials were concerned that other cities could suffer the fate of Lumberton, a community of 22,000 people about 80 miles from the ocean.
The Rev. Volley Hanson worried that stress from the lack of running water and electricity might push people over the edge.
“The cash is going to be running out. We’ve already got street vendors hawking water, Cokes and cigarettes. Cigarettes are at seven bucks a pack,” Hanson said. “It’s nuts here, and it’s going to get worse.”
The storm killed about 500 people in Haiti, according to some reports, and at least 23 in the U.S. — nearly half of them in North Carolina. At least three people were missing.
The full extent of the disaster in North Carolina was still unclear, but it appeared that thousands of homes were damaged and more were in danger of flooding.
About 1,500 people had to be rescued early Monday. Most of them were in knee-deep water, but some fled to rooftops as the brown water swirled around them.
Rescuers still have not made it to all the submerged cars or figured out exactly how many people are missing or dead, Robeson County Emergency Management Director Stephanie Chavis said.
Damien Mosher and his fiancee were trying to make it to their coastal home in South Carolina but were detoured to Lumberton because Interstate 95 — a major artery for the East Coast — was closed.
Shelters turned them away because of their two dogs so they ended up in the Police Department parking lot, listening to occasional gunfire around them. The department’s doors were locked and most of the 75 or so officers were out helping with traffic or rescues.
The Lumber River crested 4 feet above its record level Sunday in Lumberton and was forecast to remain there until Saturday.
River flooding was happening in other places too. In the tiny town of Nichols, S.C., downstream from Lumberton, at least 100 people spent the night on the third floor of the town hall.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory pleaded with residents to heed evacuation orders.
In addition to 11 deaths in North Carolina, there were five in Florida and three each in Georgia and South Carolina. One death was reported in Virginia.
Matthew’s flooding in North Carolina was made worse by heavy rains in September.
Many areas east of I-95 got at least twice their normal amount of rain last month, in part because the remnants of Tropical Storm Julia parked off the coast for several days.
Traffic is at a standstill on Interstate 95 in Lumberton, N.C., on Sunday due to high water.