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 ramp and greenway still partially covered and the grass and clover coated with a muddy brown dust.
Donnie Powell Jr. and his son Austin stopped by, and despite the river being flooded, they found something tranquil in it, especially now that the water was going down.
“It’s just kind of peaceful, serene you know?” Powell said. “Even with all the power of the river, there’s peace. There’s an old song that goes ‘peace like a river,’ so that’s what I take from it.”
An unnamed three-day rain storm dumped water all over the Triangle region, and much of it collected and flowed through downtown Smithfield, with the Neuse River eventually peaking at around four feet below Hurricane Matthew levels. Those four feet, though, proved to be the difference between widespread devastation and last week’s weather, which largely came and went with just school delays and minor flooding in some homes and businesses near the river.
Like Fran and Floyd before it, Matthew is the new measuring stick for flood stories, and though the water was high this past week, it didn’t compare to October’s deadly and devastating hurricane. Tom Woodard sat in a truck and watched the river with his dog Molly on his lap. A couple of hundred feet away stood the Paul West Bridge spanning the flooded Neuse in 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.
Clayton’s greenways were also flooded and closed last week, town spokeswoman Stacy Beard said, noting some of the damage from Matthew had not yet been repaired, such as a trail bridge in Riverwood the water ripped from its foundation.
The water overwhelmed the county’s sewer system, leaking more than a million gallons of wastewater into the Neuse. County Manager Rick Hester said this leak, while larger, was not quite as potent as an earlier 250,000-gallon spill near Swift Creek, which was entirely untreated waste undiluted by any rainfall. Drinking water in all municipalities remained clean, and no boil warnings were issued.