Wilmington, N.C. — Driving rain from a storm system moving up the East Coast brought flooding to parts of central and eastern North Carolina, and residents were on the lookout for more potential flooding throughout Thursday.
Nearly 21 inches collected in Wilmington since rain started falling Sunday topped Hurricane Floyd’s five-day mark of 19 inches set in 1999, the National Weather Service said.
New Hanover County emergency officials were concerned Thursday afternoon about flooding on Water Street in downtown Wilmington because of an expected 2-foot tidal surge.
It was a similar scene elsewhere along the North Carolina Coast. Flood warnings, watches and advisories were in effect for most of the area until late Thursday and into Friday.
Rain caused an 11-acre retention pond in Carolina Beach to overflow, flooding downtown Carolina Beach and some businesses, homes and hotels in other low-lying areas were also flooded.
Town manager Tim Owens said the pond, which can handle 6 to 7 inches of rain, is usually pumped before big storms, but that utility crews ran out of time before the latest round of rain.
Crews spent the day pumping water from it, and four additional pumps were brought in to help speed along the process, Carolina Beach Police Chief William Younginger said.
"I used to live in Houston, and I thought I'd seen a lot of rain there, but this is incredible," one Carolina Beach resident said. "I've never seen flooding like this."
In Brunwick County, rain damaged some roads and watched out others, including parts of U.S. Highway 17 and N.C. Highway 133.
One lane of U.S. 17 remained closed Thursday afternoon and N.C. 133 between Leland and Boiling Springs Lake was also closed.
Emergency officials reported eight road closures in Pender County and 13 partial closures, including N.C. Highway 50.
Farther inland, about 70 people were evacuated overnight from a mobile home community in Kinston because of high water, said Roger Dail, director of emergency services in Lenoir County.
Some coastal counties opened shelters for residents displaced by flooding, including First Baptist Church, on Village Road in Leland; First Baptist Activity Center on Independence Boulevard in Wilmington; and Burgaw Middle School on South Wright Street in Burgaw.
Minor flooding was also reported farther inland in some areas of Johnston, Halifax and Edgecombe counties.
The National Weather Service issued flood advisories for those counties, in addition to others in Central North Carolina.
But state emergency officials warned that moderate to major flooding in low-lying areas along rivers and creeks would likely continue into early next week. They urged people to say away from flood-prone areas and to avoid driving in areas of standing water.
Jeff Orrock, a National Weather Service meteorologist, advised Smithfield residents to keep an eye on the Neuse River.
“We’re already forecasting minor to moderate flooding, and that may push those river levels up a little higher,” he said. “They have a lot of problems on the Neuse River at about 20 to 21 feet. Right now, the forecast is for 18.5 feet.”
In Raleigh, concerns about Crabtree Creek flooding prompted Crabtree Valley Mall to close its lower parking deck, and nearby automotive dealerships moved vehicles from their lots as a precaution.
Water levels at Crabtree Creek crested earlier Thursday at 15.35 feet, and it was expected to continue falling.
There were some reports of trees down on power lines in parts of Wake County, including on the North Carolina State University campus and in parts of Cary.
At one point, the storms had knocked out power to more than 62,000 Progress Energy customers in North Carolina.
Power had been restored to most areas, but the utility company still had about 7,700 customers without power as of noon, including 1,000 in Wake County, 335 in Wilmington and 1,300 in Smithfield.
Duke Energy reported about 3,300 outages. Power had been restored to most customers by the afternoon, a spokesman said.
Commuters slogged through a rainy, slippery drive and encountered flooded, closed roads in counties from the coast to the Triangle.
Officials urged motorists not to drive through water that was washing over roads.
“Back during Floyd, we had a lot of people lose their lives that way,” Red Cross regional director Lynwood Roberson said.
The threat of standing water on roads prompted a number of school systems to announce a two-hour delay to the start of school – including Cumberland, Duplin, Edgecombe, Franklin, Halifax, Johnston, Nash-Rocky Mount, Northampton, Sampson, Scotland and Wayne counties.
Several school systems along the coast also canceled classes for Friday.