Rising rivers were causing more misery in eastern North Carolina Tuesday, where the death toll climbed to 17 and more evacuations were under way in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.
In Lumberton on Monday night, a state trooper shot and killed a man in a flooded area, Gov. Pat McCrory said at a Tuesday morning briefing. The shooting happened around 8 p.m. on Fifth Street, where two Robeson Sheriff’s deputies were conducting search and rescue operations with a patrol sergeant, the State Highway Patrol said in a news release. A man displayed a handgun and became hostile to the officers, the patrol said, and was then fatally shot by the sergeant.
The patrol did not release the identity of the sergeant and said the identity of the man who died is unknown. The State Bureau of Investigation is handling the case, which is standard with police-involved shootings.
In Lumberton and elsewhere, water rescues continued, and the situation could become more dangerous. Lenoir County and Kinston were under mandatory evacuation orders for residents near the Neuse River. Early Tuesday, officials in Moore County began evacuating people along Cane Creek, downstream of Lake Surf, because the dam holding back the lake was near ready to break, they said. Sandbags were piled at the dam to stabilize it, but the National Weather Service kept a flash-flood warning in effect.
Evacuations even spread to prisons, where nearly 800 inmates were moved from the Neuse Correctional Institution in Goldsboro. Some 4,000 people are in emergency shelters in central and eastern North Carolina – a quarter of those in the Lumberton area alone.
The storm has claimed 17 lives in North Carolina, the state Department of Public Safety said. Most of the deaths occurred when motorists got swept away on flooded roads. One man died in Wake County when a tree fell on his car, McCrory said.
“This is terrible news,” McCrory said late Tuesday.
By Tuesday, more than 2,000 people had been rescued from swift water teams throughout the eastern part of the state, mostly in Robeson and Cumberland counties. More than 400 high water and rescue vehicles had been deployed, and 90 helicopter rescues had been conducted.
McCrory warned drivers not to try to go through areas closed because of flooding.
“Do not go through water!” the governor said. “We’re not messing around.”
McCrory has consistently said that unwise decisions by people to ignore evacuation instructions or to go into blocked-off areas put the lives of first responders in danger once people need to be rescued. He came close Tuesday to saying officials would not send rescuers into situations that seemed too dangerous for them.
Sections of Interstate 95 were still closed because of flooding, along with some other highways that were inundated. I-95 was shut down between Dunn and Lumberton, while I-40 was closed between N.C. 55 and N.C. 96 around Newton Grove.
Closures will continue and shift as rivers crest, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation, and washouts could mean lengthy road repairs.
On Monday, President Barack Obama declared 31 North Carolina counties a disaster. That opens the door for federal assistance to help counties recover from the flooding.
These counties will be eligible for some federal assistance: Beaufort, Bertie, Bladen, Brunswick, Camden, Carteret, Chowan, Columbus, Craven, Cumberland, Currituck, Dare, Duplin, Edgecombe, Greene, Hoke, Hyde, Johnston, Lenoir, Nash, New Hanover, Onslow, Pamlico, Pasquotank, Pender, Perquimans, Pitt, Robeson, Tyrrell, Washington and Wayne. Individuals in 10 of the hardest-hit counties could also be eligible for federal help.
As of noon Tuesday, there were 246,000 power outages in North Carolina, including nearly 148,000 Duke Energy customers and 58,000 who get power through cooperatives, the state Office of Emergency Management said.
Public schools are closed in Johnston County Tuesday. East Carolina University in Greenville and Wayne County public schools have canceled classes for the rest of the week.
The flooding could continue for several days as rivers and creeks swell. The Tar River will crest Wednesday in Greenville, McCrory said. The Neuse will crest Saturday in Kinston; the river is rising about a foot per day.
At an emergency shelter at Tarboro High School, which housed 140 people Monday night, people who had been evacuated from Princeville and Tarboro along the Tar River worried about their homes.
Many had lived there when Hurricane Floyd flooded them out in 1999. By midday Tuesday the river had not yet crested so they had no idea what they would find when they could safely return to their homes.
In the high school gym, people sat with a few of their belongings on cots as children ran around them, tossing beach balls back and forth and using pent-up energy.
“Not knowing exactly what the next move is going to be, that’s hard,” said Regina Brooks, a 27-year-old Princeville resident who had been staying in the shelter with her 1-year-old and 2-year-old daughters and her mother since Sunday.
Just a few streets away, closer to the river that divides Princeville from Tarboro, emergency vehicles blocked both ends of the bridge that links the two Edgecombe County towns.
But on a warm October day, with clear blue skies and temperatures in the high 60s, many residents walked across the bridge, taking pictures of the swift moving Tar River and comparing its spillover to Hurricane Floyd.
Rick Page, a former Tarboro mayor who also was a utility director when Floyd spurred massive flooding, said the Tar River was not as high Tuesday as it had been after Floyd.
He pointed to a grassy dike on the Princeville side that still was at least six to eight feet above the water early in the afternoon.
If the river spilled over the dike, he said, that would mean big trouble for the Princeville residents on the other side.
But all on the bridge were hoping for the best.
Staff writers contributed to this report.
Federal help may be available to individuals in these counties:
Beaufort, Bladen, Columbus, Cumberland, Edgecombe, Hoke, Lenoir, Nash, Pitt and Robeson.
Major NC roads shut down:
▪ I-95 between Dunn and Lumberton
▪ I-40 between N.C. 55 and N.C. 96 around Newton Grove
▪ N.C. 12 in parts of Kitty Hawk and Hatteras Island
▪ U.S. 264 in spots in Wilson, Pitt and Greene counties
▪ U.S. 74-76 in Whiteville and in Boardman
▪ U.S. 301 at Church Street in Rocky Mount and near Hope Mills
▪ U.S. 258 in Princeville
▪ U.S. 1 near the Virginia state line
▪ U.S. 701 in southern Sampson County
▪ U.S. 117 in Duplin County
▪ U.S. 13 between Goldsboro and Fayetteville
▪ U.S. 701 north of Whiteville