Hur­ri­cane’s toll

Wa­ters keep ris­ing; McCrory says death toll is now at 20

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY CHICO HAR­LAN AND AN­GELA FRITZ Fritz re­ported from Wash­ing­ton. James La­Porta in Kin­ston, Arelis R. Hernán­dez in Mount Olive, N.C., and Kirk Ross in Raleigh, con­trib­uted to this re­port. For more pho­tos from North Carolina, visit wapo.st/ NCFlood­ing.

Rain-fed wa­ters are still ris­ing in parts of North Carolina, and the gover­nor said storm-re­lated deaths now stand at 20.

princeville, n.c. — As North Carolina strug­gles with the deadly after­math of Hur­ri­cane Matthew, fore­cast­ers Wednes­day warned that rain-fed wa­ters were still on the rise in some ar­eas — with at least one river ex­pected to crest this week­end at nearly dou­ble the flood stage.

The swollen Neuse River, cut­ting through coastal flat­lands south of Greenville, un­der­scores the flood threats fac­ing parts of the state for the com­ing days even as res­cue teams try to move peo­ple out of dan­ger and util­ity crews work to re­store power to nearly 200,000 cus­tomers.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) said storm-re­lated deaths now stand at 20 across the state, and he again called for full-scale evac­u­a­tions from threat­ened ar­eas. Among them: the val­ley be­low Wood Lake Dam, about 20 miles north­west of Fayet­teville, which has been re­in­forced but re­mains in dan­ger of fail­ing.

“We’ve had too many deaths,” McCrory said. “Get out. Once the wa­ter flows, it’s too late.”

The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice pre­dicted that the Neuse was mov­ing to­ward “dan­ger­ous flood­ing lev­els” of nearly 27.5 feet by early Satur­day near the town of Kin­ston be­fore start­ing to fall. The rise — al­ready above the 14-foot flood stage in the area — is fore­cast to top the spillover from de­struc­tive Hur­ri­cane Floyd 17 years ago.

Matthew Young’s home in Kin­ston was in­un­dated dur­ing a flash flood Satur­day. The rain was fall­ing too hard dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Matthew for the soil to ab­sorb it. He’s us­ing the evenings after work to clean up the mess, but his ren­ter’s in­sur­ance does not cover flood dam­age. He told The Wash­ing­ton Post he’ll be ap­ply­ing for FEMA as­sis­tance.

“It will be weeks be­fore things are even re­motely back to nor­mal here,” Young said.

Many of the Kin­ston homes, build­ings and farms that were flooded Satur­day are get­ting hit for the sec­ond time in less than a week as the Neuse River climbs to a record. Manda­tory evac­u­a­tions have been in place since Mon­day along the river in Lenoir County, where Kin­ston is lo­cated, but some res­i­dents aren’t budg­ing.

“Although the wa­ter is ris­ing slowly, it IS RIS­ING,” B. J. Mur­phy, Kin­ston’s mayor, wrote on his Face­book page Wednes­day morn­ing. “We have knocked on ev­ery door a min­i­mum of two times and left no­tices at empty homes. Our Kin­ston Po­lice Depart­ment will con­tinue to knock un­til we can’t get there any more.”

“If you know some­one liv­ing in these ar­eas, please plead with them to get out,” Mur­phy added.

It won’t be un­til around Oct. 22 — two weeks after Matthew struck — that the wa­ter in Kin­ston will re­cede be­low ma­jor flood stage, the most se­vere on the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice scale. It means mass evac­u­a­tions are or­dered and ex­ten­sive prop­erty dam­age in­flicted. Kin­ston res­i­dents may not be able to re­turn to their homes un­til Oct. 22.

The out­look does not get bet­ter for other ci­ties along the Tar, Black and Lum­ber rivers. Never mind the record-break­ing crests: The flood­ing’s du­ra­tion is the most mind-bog­gling as­pect of this dis­as­ter. In Lum­ber­ton, the wa­ter isn’t fore­cast to re­cede be­low Hur­ri­cane Floyd’s old record un­til Sun­day.

“You can at­tribute that to the many trib­u­taries along the river — the creeks and streams that run into and out of these rivers,” said Lara Pagano, a Na­tional Weather Ser­vice hy­drol­o­gist. “They are just full. They get backed up, and the river be­comes even more el­e­vated. The wa­ter has nowhere to go.”

In Princeville — a town that was submerged by flood­ing after Floyd in 1999 — the swollen Tar River was threat­en­ing the low-ly­ing town in a close call that res­i­dents there were strug­gling to fathom. After Floyd, the town was for­ti­fied in an ex­pen­sive en­gi­neer­ing process that aimed to pre­vent some­thing sim­i­lar from hap­pen­ing again. Of­fi­cials in Edge­combe County say they be­lieve Princeville will es­cape with­out ma­jor dam­age, but wa­ter be­gan en­ter­ing one sec­tion of the town on Wednes­day morn­ing.

“It’s an­kle-deep in the back of town,” said Wil­liam John­son, Edge­combe County’s as­sis­tant man­ager.

Though the dike — a crown­like cap at the north part of town — has held as de­signed, wa­ter is en­ter­ing through the side, after the dike ta­pers off. Princeville Town Man­ager Daniel Ger­ald said wa­ter was also be­ing pres­sured into town through a storm drain, “re­verse-vac­u­umed in” un­der pres­sure from the river.

“I’ve never seen this, and I’m a wa­ter and sewer guy,” Ger­ald said.

At least 35 deaths in the United States have been blamed on Matthew as it churned up the East Coast after killing hun­dreds in Haiti and bat­ter­ing Cuba and the Ba­hamas.

Across four states — Florida, Ge­or­gia and the Caroli­nas — nearly 4,500 peo­ple stayed in Red Cross shel­ters on Tues­day night, ac­cord­ing to a Red Cross spokesman. The ma­jor­ity of those dis­placed res­i­dents, around 3,800, were holed up in 57 shel­ters across eastern North Carolina.

“We’re try­ing to make sure peo­ple have a dry place, a roof over their heads and a warm meal,” Pe­ter Ma­cias of the Red Cross said. Nurses and men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als have vol­un­teered their time to en­sure shel­ter res­i­dents are men­tally and phys­i­cally healthy, Ma­cias told The Post in a phone call from North Carolina.

The flood dealt a di­rect blow to the poor­est sec­tion of North Carolina, a tract of farm­land and towns strug­gling after los­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs. More than 4,000 peo­ple have been forced from their homes into shel­ters at high schools and re­cre­ation cen­ters, many lack­ing flood in­sur­ance, health in­sur­ance or sta­ble em­ploy­ment. McCrory said the chal­lenges ahead in­clude find­ing tem­po­rary hous­ing for those dis­placed by the floods.

Spencer Rogers, a coastal con­struc­tion and ero­sion spe­cial­ist with North Carolina State Univer­sity’s Sea Grant pro­gram, said the flood­ing is driven by the dy­nam­ics of the state’s river sys­tems as they run through the coastal plain. “The ocean can re­ceive a lot of wa­ter,” he said. “It’s the river ar­eas where the con­fined river basin backs up the wa­ter, and it just can’t flow out fast enough.”

Of­fi­cials in North Carolina fear a re­peat of Hur­ri­cane Floyd. The storm caused 57 deaths — 35 of them in North Carolina, most from in­land drown­ing in the days after rain sub­sided. Floyd also caused an es­ti­mated $6 bil­lion in dam­age, leav­ing thou­sands of peo­ple with­out homes and keep­ing com­mu­ni­ties un­der­wa­ter for weeks.

Pres­i­dent Obama de­clared a ma­jor dis­as­ter in North Carolina on Mon­day, which could help speed fed­eral aid to af­fected res­i­dents.

Even be­fore Matthew ar­rived, North Carolina’s soil was sat­u­rated. Then some parts of the state re­ceived more than 17 inches of rain in a day.

CHUCK BUR­TON/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ve­hi­cles at a busi­ness are sur­rounded by flood­wa­ter from Hur­ri­cane Matthew in Lum­ber­ton, N.C. The wa­ter isn’t fore­cast to re­cede be­low Hur­ri­cane Floyd’s 1999 record un­til Sun­day.

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