Af­ter hur­ri­cane, chaos lingers in wa­ter-logged N.C.

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - WEATHER - By Emery P. Dale­sio and Martha Wag­goner

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 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. Robe­son County, which in­cludes Lum­ber­ton, had North Carolina’s high­est vi­o­lent crime rate in 2014.

“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 more than 500 peo­ple in Haiti 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.

One sil­ver lin­ing may be that emer­gency plan­ners now have so­phis­ti­cated mod­els that can pre­cisely de­ter­mine a river’s crest and pin­point which build­ings will be flooded. But even those mod­els have their lim­its. They can­not pre­dict when a levee or a dam will fail. A levee in Lum­ber­ton ap­peared to fail overnight, but of­fi­cials later con­cluded that flood­wa­ters had flowed around it.

About 1,500 peo­ple had to be rescued early Mon­day. Most of them were in kneedeep wa­ter, but some fled to rooftops as the brown wa­ters 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, county Emer­gency Man­age­ment Di­rec­tor Stephanie Chavis said.

“I’ve been here right at 28 years,” Chavis said. “This seems to be the worst one we’ve had in my ca­reer.”

Damien Mosher and his fi­ance 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, South Carolina, 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 and to be care­ful. The seven-day fore­cast of clear, cooler weather was good for cleanup, but might lure peo­ple into a false sense of se­cu­rity.

“This is go­ing to be a pro­longed hur­ri­cane for us even though the skies are blue,” the gov­er­nor said.

Engi­neers had no es­ti­mate on when I-95 would re­open. Driv­ing was dif­fi­cult, if not impossible be­cause hun­dreds of roads were closed, in some cases iso­lat­ing en­tire towns. Dozens of school dis­tricts and East Carolina Univer­sity can­celed classes for the en­tire week. Nearly 1 mil­lion peo­ple in North Carolina and South Carolina were with­out power, two days af­ter the eye of the hur­ri­cane moved out to sea.

In ad­di­tion to the 11 deaths in North Carolina, there were five in Florida and three each in Ge­or­gia and South Carolina. One death was re­ported in Vir­ginia.

Au­thor­i­ties in coastal Ge­or­gia and South Carolina warned res­i­dents it may take days or even weeks to re­store elec­tric­ity and clean up all the de­bris. Peo­ple who tried to go home but were blocked by au­thor­i­ties who said the dam­age was still too se­vere grew in­creas­ingly frus­trated.

RAINIER EHRHARDT — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Flood­wa­ters cover a road near Mullins, S.C., on Mon­day. Nearly 1 mil­lion homes and busi­nesses still did not have power Mon­day morn­ing in the Caroli­nas af­ter Hur­ri­cane Matthew.

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