Hurricane Matthew continued to prey upon North Carolina on Thursday, as the death toll climbed to 22 and another town became submerged in as much as 10 feet of water.
“Princeville is basically underwater at this time,” Gov. Pat McCrory said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. He praised town officials and residents for getting everyone out safely.
“We're going to have a lot of work to do in Princeville,” McCrory said, “a lot of work, a lot of recovery. We’re going to have to rebuild a town.”
Princeville in Edgecombe County, with roughly 2,000 residents, is believed to be the oldest town in the nation incorporated by African-Americans. Hurricane Floyd also inundated the town 17 years ago. A dike had failed then. This time, the water simply went over the top of the dike.
Though Hurricane Matthew came through the state on Saturday, the heavy rains it brought continued to push down the Tar and Neuse rivers in Eastern North Carolina. The Neuse is expected to crest in Kinston on Friday, while Greenville will see the Tar crest on Saturday, according to flood models. The rivers are expected to remain at abnormally high levels for days.
McCrory said the death toll rose by two on Thursday as one man fell into a hole created by an uprooted tree in Robeson County and another man died after driving his vehicle around a barricade on a closed road and into a washout. He again urged people to stay off the roads in flooded areas and away from the water.
The death toll could climb further.
On Thursday morning, Cumberland County sheriff’s officials put out a bulletin for a missing 53-year-old man who hasn’t been seen since Saturday night. Tarry Faircloth of Maxwell Road in East Fayetteville had been watching football at a friend’s home that night and told him he would use Interstate 95 because he thought back roads were flooded, a sheriff’s spokesman said.
Information from Faircloth’s cell phone usage and other leads prompted the sheriff’s dive team to search a body of water near the 55 mile marker off I-95, about three miles north of where his car had been found. The search produced no clues to his whereabouts. They’ve asked anyone with information about Faircloth to contact them at 910-323-1500.
McCrory also warned that the state will not reopen all roads as soon as water recedes because they may be too damaged to be safe. He toured Kinston on Thursday afternoon.
McCrory says the hurricane’s impact could last as long as a year for those who lost homes and businesses. He said a top priority is getting those displaced out of shelters and into hotel rooms or rental properties, and then into housing provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
McCrory said 60 National Guard troops had been assigned to Fairmont in Robeson County, where a neighborhood is awash in sewage-laced water, but people are afraid their homes will be looted if they leave. The Guard will help with both evacuation and security afterward, he said.
After visiting shelters, McCrory said, “I have never met more resilient and thankful people” who are bearing up even though “it’s their whole lives they feel like they’ve lost.”
On Wednesday evening, the N.C. Highway Patrol identified the man who was fatally shot by a trooper during rescue operations on Monday as Dennis Hunt, 56, of Lumberton. A Highway Patrol spokesman said Hunt was shot after he became hostile toward officers and displayed a handgun.
The trooper was identified as Sgt. J.F. Hinson, a 13-year veteran who was accompanying two members of the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office at the time of the shooting.
There have been 2,300 rescues performed since flooding in the hurricane’s aftermath forced people out of their homes. Eighty have been air rescues by the N.C. National Guard, State Highway Patrol and U.S. Coast Guard. Forty-six shelters remain open, with reports of 3,800 people using them. Though power outage reports were down to some 47,000 across the state Thursday morning, emergency officials acknowledged that more outages could occur as water continues to rise in some areas.
Sections of Interstate 95 from Lumberton to Fayetteville remain closed due to flooding. Benson officials said Thursday traffic will continue to be diverted through town as a southbound section of the interstate at the Johnston-Harnett county line remains closed until Saturday. During that time the NCDOT will build a crossover lane to use the northbound side until the section can be repaired in about three weeks. A seven-mile stretch of westbound Interstate 40 near Newton Grove is still closed, too.
All seven North Carolina ferry routes had been returned to service by Wednesday, but Ocracoke Island remained closed to visitors.
By 7 a.m. Thursday, beachgoers could return to Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon and Buxton in Dare County. Though transportation crews had cleared much of N.C. 12, the Outer Banks highway often submerged by flooding, access to Frisco and Hatteras remained restricted.
While some on the coast and other areas where the floodwaters have receded began to return to homes and assess the damage, Kinston, Greenville and nearby towns were still preparing for disaster. McCrory said Thursday that flood models show the Neuse cresting in Kinston on Friday. It has started to recede in Goldsboro. The Tar River, which runs through Greenville, is expected to crest on Saturday.
Then it could be another week, according to some models, before the waters recede to normal levels.
The flooding in Hurricane Matthew’s aftermath has struck a blow in some of the state’s more impoverished regions. Many of those being forced to find temporary housing lack flood insurance and other benefits they will need as the waters recede, and they face new problems from tainted water systems and moldy housing. Many suffered similar losses after Hurricane Floyd.
“The people being impacted the most are the poor,” McCrory said in Kinston on Thursday. “And when they are displaced they have nothing. They have nothing to go to.”
About 1,000 people gathered at the Greene Street bridge over the Tar River in Greenville for a town prayer on Wednesday, as Mayor Allen Thomas and Mayor Pro-Tem Kandie Smith and about a dozen local preachers called for town unity during the trying times ahead.
Beyond the immediate and pending emergencies, North Carolina has a long recovery ahead.
McCrory said he requested federal assistance for individuals as well as state and local governments for 66 counties. By Thursday morning, homeowners and renters in 17 counties were able to apply for federal assistance to repair or rebuild damaged homes, and 34 counties were approved for public federal assistance.
Staff photographer Chris Seward contributed to this report.
How to apply for FEMA aid
Disaster survivors in the following counties can register for federal assistance: Beaufort, Bertie, Bladen, Columbus, Cumberland, Edgecombe, Hoke, Johnston, Lenoir, Nash, Pitt, Robeson, Wayne and Wilson.
Homeowners, renters, and business owners who suffered loss or damages due to Hurricane Matthew can register at www.DisasterAssistance.gov, by downloading the FEMA mobile app, or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). For those who use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), the number is the same. For people using TTY, the number is 1-800-462-7585. The numbers will operate from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week.
Grant assistance provided by FEMA for homeowners and renters can include funds to help with rent, temporary housing and home repairs to their primary residences, as well as personal and necessary items, moving and storage expenses, transportation, medical and dental expenses, or funeral and burial and re-interment costs caused by the disaster. Other relief programs include crisis counseling and legal assistance.
Survivors should also contact their insurance company to file an insurance claim. FEMA won’t duplicate claims, but those without insurance or who may be underinsured may still receive help after their insurance claims have been settled.