It’s been a week since Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina, and the death toll continues to rise even as the floodwaters recede.
The bodies of two more people were found in submerged vehicles, in Cumberland and Wayne counties, bringing the number killed from the storm and its aftermath to 26, Gov. Pat McCrory announced Saturday morning. Most of those killed were in vehicles on flooded roads.
The major rivers in the eastern part of the state have crested but remain high. The Lumber River won’t drop below major flood stage at Lumberton until Monday afternoon, McCrory said, and the Cape Fear River at Burgaw and the Neuse River at Kinston won’t recede below major flood stage until Wednesday.
Three towns – Lumberton, Princeville and Fair Bluff – remain underwater, as do many smaller communities, McCrory said.
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“There’s still many, many difficult days ahead for North Carolina, and many of our citizens who are still being impacted by this incredible hurricane,” he said.
There have been 2,300 rescues since the storm hit, but, for the first time, none overnight Friday, McCrory said. And in another good sign, he said, only 13,336 homes and businesses were still without power Saturday morning, down from a peak of nearly a million.
The majority of those without electricity – some 12,000 – are in Robeson County, where high water will prevent crews from restoring power for several days.
The Lumberton area is among the hardest hit in the state. Among the challenges there and elsewhere, McCrory said, will be finding housing for people who remain in shelters or in other temporary situations. He said the state will work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which he noted is still working to provide housing for people displaced by floods in Louisiana in August.
“It’s not going to be a quick fix,” McCrory said. “This is going to be, I think, the major challenge for the next several weeks.”
State regulators, who evaluated conditions at Duke Energy’s H.F. Lee power plant in Wayne County on Saturday, determined that a small amount of coal ash – less than would fit in a pickup truck – was released from an inactive basin. Flood waters have receded and the structure is intact, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
About 660 roads remained closed in eastern North Carolina on Saturday morning, either blocked by high water or still damaged by floodwaters that have receded. U.S. 70 is closed at Kinston, and U.S. 64 is closed at Tarboro, both with detours in place.
Interstate 40 is now reopened in both directions between Raleigh and Wilmington, but Interstate 95 remains closed in two places in Cumberland and Robeson counties. It’s not clear when I-95 will reopen, McCrory said.
“It could be a good bit of time, a minimum of a week, before that part of I-95 is open,” he said.
N.C. 12 has been reopened without restrictions in Dare County.