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, an Edgecombe County town with roughly 2,000 residents, is thought to be the oldest town in the nation incorporated by African-Americans. Hurricane Floyd also inundated the town 17 years ago. A dike failed then. This time, the water simply went over the top of the dike.
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Though Hurricane Matthew came through the state Saturday, the heavy rains it brought continued to push down the Tar and Neuse rivers in Eastern North Carolina on Thursday. The Neuse is expected to crest in Kinston late Friday, while the Tar is expected to crest in Greenville on Friday morning, according to flood models. The rivers are expected to remain at abnormally high levels for days.
McCrory said the death toll rose by two 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. The governor again urged people to stay off the roads in flooded areas and away from the water.
The number 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, 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.”
There have been 2,300 rescues performed since flooding in the hurricane’s aftermath forced people out of their homes, including 80 by air. The American Red Cross reported 39 shelters remained open Thursday, serving more than 2,600 people. Power outage reports were down to about 43,700 across the state Thursday afternoon, though that number could rise with the surging rivers.
State officials are urging beach-goers to pay close attention to danger spots and take alternate routes. U.S. 70 in Lenoir County is closed between N.C. 58 and U.S. 258, and U.S. 64 in Edgecombe County is closed between Princeville and SR 1606.
Sections of Interstate 95 south of Benson also remained 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 state DOT 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 has yet to open.
McCrory said the Neuse started to recede in Goldsboro. He said towns further downstream along the Neuse such as Cove City, Dover, Ft. Barnwell, Vanceboro and other communities in western parts of Craven County are at risk of flooding as the river starts to crest Saturday.
“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.”
Beyond the immediate and pending emergencies, North Carolina has a long recovery ahead.
On Thursday, the Division of Employment Security announced emergency unemployment benefits for people who live in 20 North Carolina counties and lost jobs or business because of the hurricane. The designation means they will not have to wait a week or provide evidence of job searches to receive benefits.
The flooding has killed 1.9 million poultry and an estimated 4,800 hogs, state agriculture officials say. State environmental officials say reports from farmers indicate the flooding has not caused ruptures or overflows of hog waste lagoons, though 11 of them have taken in floodwaters. Stephanie Hawco, a state Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman, said aerial tours of hog lagoons in flood areas will be conducted Friday or Saturday.
How to apply for FEMA aid
Disaster survivors in the following counties can register for federal assistance: Beaufort, Bertie, Bladen, Columbus, Cumberland, Dare, Duplin, Edgecombe, Harnett, Hoke, Hyde, Gates, Greene, Johnston, Jones, Lenoir, Nash, Pender, Pitt, Robeson, Sampson, 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.