The edge of the floodwaters from Hurricane Matthew bobbed with sweet potatoes Sunday from the fields along Bynum Farm Road in Pinetops. Nearly 24 hours of heavy rain overwhelmed Town Creek, a tributary of the Tar River, spilling water into the yards and farms along the road, forcing some to evacuate to friends and relatives or to shelters around Edgecombe County. Others found themselves trapped, surprised by how quickly a pool of water turned into a flood and simply waited for help to come.
Working through Saturday night and into Sunday morning, emergency rescue teams, including helicopters from the Coast Guard, rescued more than 200 people in and around Pinetops, with the worst of the flooding found along Town Creek, which had swollen to more than a mile wide.
Beginning with fire trucks late Saturday night, the South Edgecombe Volunteer Fire Department began going door to door encouraging people to leave their homes. At one point during the night, with the water already covering Bynum Farm Road, a fire truck went off the road and into a ditch, where it would remain 12 hours later, poking above the water by just a foot. Using five boats, crews continued to comb the area into Sunday afternoon, but Edgecombe Sheriff James Knight said there were no missing people or fatalities.
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“As far as we know, everyone is accounted for,” Knight said.
Just before noon Sunday, the Rev. Robert Williams of Macclesfield’s Washington Branch Missionary Church was the last person rescued by boat, pulled from his sister’s house, which he said was chosen for its high ground. Through the night, as the waters rose, Williams and his family found themselves trapped. Even with the area flooded, Williams said they never lost power.
“It was scary,” Williams said. “I started feeling much better when I got off the boat.”
Knight said that no evacuation order had been issued and as of Sunday afternoon there was still no order, though he said residents in low-lying areas near water are encouraged to seek shelter elsewhere.
“It could worsen,” Knight said. “The river hasn’t crested yet.”
I didn’t think the water was going to be that bad. Then we saw the water getting to the steps.
Lilia Alvarado and her family left their home at 1 a.m. Sunday, after a knock on the door from the fire department. A rescue boat took them to the Bynum Farm Road staging area, where they joined around 120 others at a shelter opened at Pinetops Baptist Church. She said the severity of the storm surprised her family.
“I didn’t think the water was going to be that bad,” Alvarado said. “Then we saw the water getting to the steps.”
Others left at the first sign of trouble. Michael Hussey told his family they had to leave around 9 p.m. Saturday, after he saw the water filling the ditches along the street and pooling in his yard. He said that respect for the floodwaters persuaded him to leave the house, fearing that the water couldn’t be stopped.
“Water is water, we know that,” Hussey said.
Hussey made it to Martin Middle School in Tarboro, where a shelter had been set up, but came back to Bynum Farm Road on Sunday to see whether any of his nine dogs left behind in his evacuation were among those pulled out of the water by rescue crews. He was still waiting in the afternoon, after four unfamiliar dogs were rescued by crews and picked up by animal control.
Rescued dogs have been taken in by Maggie Society.
“If they made it out, they made it out, that’s all I can say,” Hussey said.
The flood brought painful memories of Hurricane Floyd back into focus. Pinetops Mayor Stephen Burress said the waterline in his memory from 1999 matches the one he saw Sunday on Bynum Farm Road.
“I swear, the water came to the exact same place,” Burress said.
Some said Floyd was worse, others said the storms were about the same. For Williams, the last man out by boat, Floyd didn’t match Matthew’s speed.
“This one came in more quickly than Floyd,” Williams said. “We had no idea it would get to this point.”
Shelters remain open in Edgecombe County at Pinetops Baptist Church, D.S. Johnson Middle School in Rocky Mount and Tarboro High School.
Drew Jackson; 919-553-7234 ext. 104; @jdrewjackson