I-95 reopens in NC; flooding keeps power out in some areas

Interstate 95 has reopened in Robeson County, but more than 1,700 homes and businesses there remained without power Monday morning, 9 days after Hurricane Matthew dropped flooding rains on Eastern North Carolina.

The outages in Robeson represent more than half the 3,200 homes and businesses in the state still without power as the day began – a sign of how hard that area was hit by the storm.

At the peak of the hurricane, which brought torrential rains and high winds to the state, some 900,000 homes and businesses were without power in North Carolina, according to Gov. Pat McCrory. The remaining outages are concentrated in areas still affected by flooding, where outages cannot be repaired until water recedes, said Duke Energy spokesperson Meghan Miles.

“It could be weeks before we see water recede and are able to send crews,” Miles said. “We’ll have to assess the damage at each specific location where we saw an outage and then begin repairs or even rebuilding part of the system or equipment.”

About 600 roads remained closed Monday in central and eastern North Carolina, including U.S. 70 at Kinston. Southbound I-95 is restricted to one lane in two places, near Benson and north of Lumberton, but for the first time since the storm, the interstate highways in eastern North Carolina are open.

The rivers have all crested. The Tar River is expected to drop below major flood stage in Greenville on Tuesday morning, according to the National Weather Service, and the Neuse River at Kinston is expected to drop below major flood stage late Wednesday. Pumps are working to pull water out of Princeville over the dike and back into the Tar River.

McCrory said Monday that 28 shelters are still open and that getting people out of those and into hotels and rental housing is a priority. McCrory also said 36,000 people have registered for individual federal assistance and that already $17.7 million in federal money has been sent to individuals for help with clothing, housing and other needs.

McCrory said that on Wednesday he will announce the formation of a task force to oversee long-term recovery efforts. He said the task force’s work will include evaluating where and whether to rebuild in some areas.

“What I don’t want to have is have this happen again,” he said.

The cities with the highest numbers of Hurricane-related power outages are Lumberton, Clinton, Kinston and Goldsboro, according to Miles of Duke Energy, who said the company believes all power outages in non-flooded areas due to Hurricane Matthew have been restored.

Three days after Matthew hit, the Lumber River peaked at Lumberton at approximately 22 feet, nine feet above flood stage, said Eric Muecke, a spokesman for the Robeson County Emergency Operations Center. The waters were expected to fall from major to moderate flood stage on Monday, but the county doesn’t expect the river to drop below minor flood stage until next Thursday, Oct. 27.

“It’s a matter of waiting for the water to recede so we can get to them,” Muecke said, referring to people who remain without power.

North Carolina’s electric cooperatives had approximately 400 co-op members without power on Monday, said Lindsey Listrom, the communications manager for N.C. Electric Cooperatives. The 26 North Carolina cooperatives – which serve approximately 2.5 million people – reported 74,000 outages one week ago and a peak of 270,000 outages.

“All of our members are reconnected that can be reconnected,” Listrom said. “Some areas are still flooded, and crews are monitoring those areas as waters recede.”

She said that “flooding and washed out roads” prevented co-op crews from restoring power to the remaining customers, who are scattered across Wayne, Lenoir, Bladen, Robeson and Pender counties.

“Safety is a big concern for co-op members and crews,” Listrom said. “Reconnecting power in flooded areas can be dangerous, so we’re making sure to go about that process very carefully.”

Rachel Chason: 919-829-4629