More than a week after heavy rain flooded the Triangle and most of central North Carolina, Eastern North Carolina’s rivers are threatening homes and businesses. In Kinston, some will have to evacuate as waters rise to 1996’s Hurricane Fran levels.
There was a risk of severe storms across North Carolina on Monday, but any storms were not expected to contribute to more flooding, according to the National Weather Service.
“While we don’t expect today’s risk of thunderstorms to cause more flooding, we cannot afford to let our guard down quite yet,” Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday in a prepared statement. “Remember: don’t drive around barricades on flooded roads. There are still a number of flooded roads throughout central and eastern North Carolina.”
Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy said the Nature Center and a handful of businesses and homes are preparing for the Neuse to reach 23 feet, flooding the southeastern part of town and making N.C. 11 and many secondary roads impassable when the river crests Wednesday.
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Water also will back up into Contentnea Creek and flood homes near the creek in Grifton and water will inundate homes in Tick Bite, cuting off residents. Streams across Lenoir, southern Pitt and northern Craven counties will rise, and secondary roads and some homes will be flooded, according to the weather service. No shelters had been designated as of Monday afternoon.
Murphy spent Monday morning checking on business owners, residents and Nature Center staff as they prepared to move for the second time in about seven months.
“There’s an extreme amount of frustration for everybody being impacted by it,” Murphy said.
The Neuse in Kinston’s record crest was more than 28 feet during Matthew and 27.7 feet during Hurricane Floyd in 1999.
“This wasn’t even a hurricane,” Murphy said of last week’s rain. “But now they’ve had to move out twice in just a few months.”
Businesses like West Masonry and Crawley Timber Company in Kinston may see flooding, Murphy said. Others like the landmark Neuse Sports Shop have some water in the parking lot, but should remain fairly dry.
“It it were 24 feet, we would be having a different conversation,” he said.
Kinston Nature Center staff and volunteers – including those from as far afield as the Triangle – just finished rebuilding, painting, scraping, pressure washing and sand blasting to bring the center back to its pre-Matthew condition.
“I feel sorry for them because they’re in a low-lying area and just seven months ago they were devastated,” Murphy said. “And this was just from 48 hours of rain.”
The timing of this flooding coincides with an effort by Kinston and other towns and counties in the east to appeal to legislators for help preventing similar flooding.
Three weeks ago, Murphy and other Eastern North Carolina leaders spoke with state legislators. Murphy said they want state leaders to consider whatever options could help – dams, dredging the river, construction policy and others.
North Carolina’s citizens and governments respond well to incidents such as this recent flooding, Matthew or the wildfires in the west. But Murphy and other leaders want the state to also be more proactive to prevent such events.
“Having served in government for almost eight years, government is really great at responding to problems,” Murphy said. “It’s very challenging for government to be proactive at heading off future challenges.
“Events like Matthew and this week help tell the story of why we need a concerted effort to look at policies and projects to stave off future issues. No one wants to see their citizens suffer.”
River levels across the east
Many rivers and streams across the state have returned to normal levels, including the Cape Fear, Lumber, Haw and Cashie. But the Tar and Neuse rivers along with a few creeks still are flooded or expected to flood again.
▪ The Neuse River in Goldsboro crested Sunday, reaching major flood stage and continuing to rise to nearly 25 feet at its peak. It was still high at 24 feet Monday. The river was expected to drop beginning Monday night.
At 23 feet, the river in Goldsboro floods Ferry Bridge and Arrington Bridge roads along with access roads around Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and parts of the base itself.
▪ The Tar River in Greenville was rising slowly Monday and stood at 17.84 feet (moderate flood stage). The river was not expected to start dropping until Tuesday afternoon, according to the weather service.
At 18 feet, the river in Greenville floods low land around it, including farmland, secondary and some residential areas.
▪ The Neuse River in Smithfield was back to normal levels Monday, but was expected to flood again Thursday
when water is released from the dam at Falls Lake, said Ryan Ellis, meteorologist with the weather service.
“That’s controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers, and they’ll monitor conditions downstream and start releasing when they feel it’s safe,” Ellis said.
On Thursday, the Neuse is expected to reach minor flood stage of 15 feet and continue to climb until it reaches 16.4 feet Saturday. At 16 feet, water overflows the left bank of the river and the Neuse riverwalk is flooded. Water also nears the base of the holding tank at the water treatment plant.
Rivers vary in levels of flooding based on where rain falls and heads downstream, how wide and deep the river is at a given location and the locations of dams, Ellis said.
Abbie Bennett: 919-836-5768; @AbbieRBennett
Flooding safety tips
Tips from the N.C. Department of Emergency Management about flooding safety:
▪ Never drive into flooded areas or across flooded roads.
▪ Do not walk through moving water. Six inches of fast-moving water can knock over an adult.
▪ Follow detours and obey traffic barricades that close off roads.
▪ Never park or camp along streams, rivers or creeks.