Inland towns are left awash

Staff WriterAugust 28, 2011 

— As Hurricane Irene's winds pounded central and northern beaches Saturday, towns farther inland saw flooding from hours of heavy rain.

In New Bern, the streets surrounding Tryon Palace were awash Saturday morning. So were the main streets in nearby Washington.

On N.C. 55 outside of Bayboro, vehicles parked in a mobile home park were almost submerged.

By afternoon, some of the flooding had subsided. In New Bern, the winds tempered and slowed, blowing from west to east. Much of the water in the streets poured back into Pamlico Sound.

Between New Bern and Washington on Saturday afternoon, the smell of freshly split wood was prominent along U.S. 17. More than 100 50- to 60-foot trees had fallen - many taking power lines with them.

Several trees blocked roadways, but many drivers tried to get around them.

Kevin McKnight of New Bern was headed to Greenville when he tried to drive around a downed tree and through a muddy ditch with his Lexus SUV.

"I thought I could make it with my four-wheel drive," he said.

He couldn't. The Lexus was partially in water and partially in mud, awaiting a tow truck.

In New Bern, sails from boats anchored in the marina behind the Hilton were shredded. Heavy smoke from a fire along the sound blew across the Neuse River's high waves.

Debris from trees covered streets downtown. Many shops, including the building where Pepsi-Cola was invented, were boarded up to protect against Irene.

Washington, which rests along the Pamlico River, got the brunt of Irene about midday Saturday. Flooding starting on Main Street and Water Street downtown, then crept onto Old U.S. 17, home of many of the town's businesses, gas stations, hotels and fast-food restaurants.

The clock on the old courthouse on Market Street downtown was stuck at 7:21 a.m. - the time the power went out Saturday. The Missing Ink tattoo parlor's front window was smashed, and the overhang from Salon 208's front window lay twisted on the sidewalk.

The Pamlico River narrows as it comes through downtown Washington and under the U.S. 17 bridge, which is why the area is prone to flooding, said resident Bill Sykes.

"It constricts at the 17 bridge, so water doesn't have a place to flow to," he said.

Sykes pulled his sailboat out of the water and parked it on a lot downtown before the storm. When he came to check on it Saturday, two trees had fallen along both sides of the boat, narrowly missing it.

Sykes, who lives in a renovated fire station loft downtown, called it his "happy boat story."

katelyn.ferral@newsobserver.com or 919-932-8746

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