Though towns east of the Triangle remain on high alert, they hope there won’t be much flood damage as rivers continue rising in the wake of this week’s heavy rains.
The Neuse and Tar rivers are expected to crest and then recede over the next few days in Eastern North Carolina, the National Weather Service said. The rivers are expected to stay well below the levels seen during Hurricane Matthew last fall.
But while floodwaters are receding in some areas, they still pose a danger.
Sandra Berry, 65, of Kissimmee, Fla., died Wednesday night when her car was swept off N.C. 58 in Greene County and sank, according to the N.C. Highway Patrol. Berry was south of Watery Branch near Parris Road after driving around barricades put up to keep drivers off the flooded highway, said Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Michael Baker.
Flood warnings are in effect for the Neuse, Tar, Roanoke, Cape Fear and Lumber rivers.
Edgecombe County Public Schools will be on a two-hour delay Friday.
Officials aren’t expecting widespread flood damage to homes or businesses. Still, a slight chance for rain over the next few days, along with memories of Matthew, are keeping some people on edge. The weather service is calling for a chance of scattered evening thunderstorms across Eastern North Carolina this weekend.
The Tar River at Tarboro is expected to hit 25.6 feet on Friday morning, well above the river’s flood stage of 19 feet, according to the weather service’s Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service models. But the waters should not go much higher, peaking at 25.9 feet on Saturday evening before coming back down.
On Monday, the Tar River’s height at Tarboro was about 3.4 feet.
“At Hurricane Matthew, 33, 34, 35 feet is where we saw widespread residential damage,” said William Johnson, assistant manager of Edgecombe County. “So as long as it stays below that 32-foot threshold, we’re going to be pretty good.”
As a precaution, the county declared a state of emergency and opened a shelter in Tarboro, he said, but no one was staying at the shelter Thursday.
Rising waters caused the evacuation of a neighborhood of about 20 homes near the Tar on Bynum Farm Road outside of Pinetops, Johnson said. The area had been restored after being hit by Matthew.
Homes there were still surrounded by water Thursday, but officials think the water stayed out of the houses after examining the area from the air Thursday morning, Johnson said.
Up the Tar River in Rocky Mount, the river crested at about 25.7 feet late Wednesday, and water levels are now beginning to slowly recede, Johnson said. The river should drop below flood stage in Rocky Mount on Monday afternoon, weather service predictions said.
The only flood damage near Rocky Mount was to a few businesses where N.C. 97 follows the Tar, according to Johnson.
In Greenville, downstream from Edgecombe, the city is still waiting for the water to rise. Weather service models predict the water will climb another four feet to 18 feet on Sunday evening. Last Monday, the river was running at about 5 feet.
City officials have been monitoring the water closely, but have not declared a state of emergency and think floodwaters will mostly stay away from homes and businesses, said Allen Thomas, Greenville’s mayor.
“We feel that the peak of this will be something that’s major flood level but maybe nothing more than a minor inconvenience to some roads or bridges,” Thomas said.
The Neuse River was still something to see Thursday afternoon in Smithfield, even after dropping a foot and a half from its crest of 25.35 feet in the early morning. Car after car pulled into a dry parking lot along the river’s bank to watch the high waters as they flowed by. Boat ramps and sidewalks still were partially covered, and the grass and clover was coated with a muddy brown dust.
Like Fran and Floyd before it, Matthew is the new measuring stick for flood stories. Though the water was high this week, it didn’t compare to October’s deadly hurricane for Smithfield. Tom Woodard sat in a truck and watched the river with his dog Molly on his lap. A couple hundred feet away stood the Paul West Bridge leading over the flooded Neuse and into downtown Smithfield. Woodard said that’s how he measures historic floods, when the water comes up over the bridge.
“I’ve only seen water cross that bridge twice in my lifetime, Floyd and then the last one we had, it dumped right smart some water,” Woodard said.
At Goldsboro, the Neuse had risen from under 5 feet on Monday to near 19.3 Thursday and was expected to crest near 23.7 feet on Sunday. In Kinston, water levels steadily increased from under 5 feet to 13.5 feet Thursday and were expected to pass the 14-foot flood stage toward 19.2 feet.
Kinston Mayor BJ Murphy said the city is bracing for flooding in areas near the river, but he doesn’t expect business or homes to be threatened.
“We’re all really thankful that this flooding doesn’t look nearly as bad as Matthew or others,” he said.