More than a week after Hurricane Matthew dumped torrential rains on North Carolina, emergency management officials are beginning to shift focus from response to recovery, as floodwaters begin to slowly recede.
Three rivers remained in major flood stage Sunday afternoon and more than 2,000 people were still living in shelters, officials said. To help people get into temporary housing and out of shelters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it is working quickly to get money and resources to residents.
“We’ve got 33,000 people registered so far, and about $12.5 million is out on the street and in the hands of people who need it,” said Andrew Innis a public assistance manager in the state’s emergency management division.
FEMA has set up two disaster recovery centers in Rocky Mount as well as sites in Lillington and Wilson, and more are expected to be opened soon, Innis said.
Disaster survivors may also register for FEMA assistance at DisasterAssistance.gov, or by calling 800-621-3362.
The Lumber River at Lumberton is expected to fall below major flood stage by Monday evening and the Tar River at Greenville is expected to fall below major flood stage on Tuesday morning, according to National Weather Service forecasts.
The Neuse River at Kinston isn’t expected to fall below major flood stage until Wednesday, forecasts said.
All rivers are expected to fall below flood stage by Oct. 24, a press release said.
Three towns – Lumberton, Princeville and Fair Bluff – remained underwater Sunday, as did some smaller communities, said John Dorman, an assistant state emergency management director.
No storm-related deaths were reported Saturday night, holding the death toll steady at 26. Officials encouraged evacuees to consult town websites or local media to make sure roadways are safe before returning home, a press release said.
About 660 roads and sections of Interstate 95 between Lumberton and Fayetteville remain closed because of flooding.
By Sunday afternoon, about 10,000 more customers had gotten electricity back, leaving 2,421 homes and businesses without power by 4 p.m. Sunday, a state Emergency Management release said. About half the remaining outages were in hard-hit Robeson County, Dorman said.
More than 1,052 people were still in the county’s five shelters as of Sunday morning, said Bill Swartley, a spokesman for the Robeson County Emergency Operations Center.
About 7,050 structures in Robeson have been affected by flooding, according to a press release.
In addition to flooding homes and businesses in Lumberton, the waters covered an electrical substation and overtook the City of Lumberton’s water treatment plant, leaving its nearly 22,600 people with no running water.
Some estimates projected the plant would not be operational until Thanksgiving, but on Sunday crews were able to get the plant running enough to distribute water to areas that are not flooded, although residents cannot drink or cook with it, said Rob Armstrong, Lumberton’s public works director.
In Kinston, Mayor B.J. Murphy said there were still several hundred staying in the town’s two shelters on Saturday, but he believes the number will drop with the waters.
The Neuse River crested at 28.3 feet and broke records set in 1999 during Hurricane Floyd. The shelters saw fewer people after Matthew because 90 percent of Kinston’s residential areas that were affected by Floyd had been bought out by FEMA and were demolished by the city or county, he said.
Murphy said the town remains split Sunday as bridges spanning the Neuse River were not passable, and the town’s major road, the U.S. Highway 70 bypass, will likely remain closed until midweek because of flooding.
He said the state is in for a long recovery but believes communities that have worked together will continue to help each other out.
“It’s been awesome to see humanity come together over these last few days, especially in Eastern North Carolina,” he said.
Chris Cioffi: 919-829-4802, @ReporterCioffi