Around Kinston, where the Neuse River swelled to 28 feet Friday and split the town in half, so many roads remain closed that truckers spent two hours just getting to work.
Delivery routes that normally last five miles in flooded parts of the state now stretch more than 100 miles thanks to drivers navigating around washed-out roads.
And motorists trying to cross North Carolina on shut-down interstates are forced to maneuver through a network of detours, adding hours to critical trips.
“Everybody is scrambling trying to figure out how to get to and from the East,” said Charles Edwards, director of logistics strategy for the state Department of Transportation. The DOT recommends that long-haul truckers avoid closed sections of I-95 by shifting west to I-85. “It’s about an hour (longer). That isn’t too bad.”
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The death toll from Hurricane Matthew rose to 24 in North Carolina on Friday, with the addition of a 63-year-old man in Cumberland County and an 86-year-old man in Lenoir County, according to Gov. Pat McCrory. Most of the deaths stem from drivers trying to cross flooded roads and getting swept away by swift water.
Also Friday, Duke Energy reported a possible spill of coal ash at its H.F. Lee power plant on the flooded Neuse River in Goldsboro, state officials said. Duke reported the erosion inside one of three unused ash basins, said Mike Rusher of the state Department of Environmental Quality. State water quality and dam safety officials will investigate Saturday, he said. There is no indication the structure will fail, DEQ said.
The unused basins at Lee are normally dry and covered in trees, but the rising Neuse has flowed across them since the storm. Those basins and one still-used ash pond contained 5.9 million tons of ash as of December.
Flooding along the Neuse River in Goldsboro and Kinston has now risen nearly a foot higher than its historic level following Hurricane Floyd in 1999.
But the water is stranding or hampering residents outside the flood zones by choking off vital passageways. U.S. 70 has been shut down in both Goldsboro and Kinston this week, delaying supplies.
“We’re struggling to figure out what roads are open so that we can get gasoline to the stations,” said Frank Famularo, president of Tidewater Transit. “Obviously, gasoline and diesel are an extremely important part of all these communities.”
The company’s trucking center in Kinston, which serves as a hub for gasoline, diesel and propane shipments, was essentially cut off from all major roads when the Neuse River overflowed its banks. With U.S. 70 closed and flooding on the Tar River, access to Morehead City “is going to be a challenge for the truckers,” Edwards said.
Beach towns urged travelers to plan ahead and avoid routes damaged by Matthew, noting many will need to cross rivers in the state’s eastern half that will remain in major flood stage throughout the weekend.
“People are still finding a way to get down here,” said Emerald Isle Mayor Eddie Barber. “I don’t know how they’re doing it. We just had someone from Raleigh get through, and they came part 40, part 24 and part something else. We’re not a ghost town. We’re open for business.”
As crews worked to repair sections of I-95 in Robeson County, the state’s railroad crews labored to restore disrupted freight routes.
“Several culverts from Selma east were washed out during the floods,” said Megen Hoenk, spokeswoman for the N.C. Railroad. “We are in contact with Norfolk Southern as they assess and repair damage.”
Meanwhile, grocery chains have struggled to keep shelves stocked in towns that cleared them out before the storm.
A Food Lion distribution center in Dunn that serves 200 stores in Eastern North Carolina, including the Triangle, went without power for two days after the storm, said Christy Phillips-Brown, a spokeswoman for the supermarket chain. Delivery of perishables such as dairy products, meats and frozen foods was especially affected.
“That did impact some deliveries to our stores,” Phillips-Brown said. “But we have been working diligently to take care of our customers and bring relief to our communities in the wake of the storm.”
The Dunn distribution center reopened Tuesday, she said, and “we’re working to resume full capacity …. as soon as possible. Customers should see significant improvement in product availability in the coming days. A lot of those stores are receiving deliveries today.”
Major road closures in Eastern North Carolina as of 4 p.m. Friday.
▪ Interstate 95 in Lumberton, in Benson and near Fayetteville.
▪ U.S. 13 near Fayetteville.
▪ U.S. 64 near Tarboro.
▪ U.S. 70 in Kinston.
▪ U.S. 258 near Tarboro and south of Kinston.
▪ U.S. 301 south of Fayetteville and in Four Oaks.
▪ U.S. 701 in parts of Bladen, Columbus and Sampson counties.
▪ N.C. 33 in Greenville and near Tarboro.
▪ N.C. 41 in parts of Robeson, Sampson and Duplin counties.
▪ N.C. 50 south of Kenansville.
▪ N.C. 53 in parts of Cumberland, Bladen and Pender counties.
▪ N.C. 111 near Goldsboro and east of Tarboro.
▪ N.C. 211 near Lumberton.