Highway slaloms through Wayne County to avoid Neuse floodwaters

Posted September 18, 2018 5:27 p.m. EDT
Updated September 18, 2018 6:21 p.m. EDT

— U.S. Highway 117 is one of the few north-south routes through eastern North Carolina that has remained open to traffic in the wake of Hurricane Florence.

The state Department of Transportation moved two lanes of traffic from one side of the divided highway to the other and back, creating a slalom course for drivers to avoid the encroaching waters of the swollen Neuse River.

The Neuse crested at Goldsboro on Tuesday at about 28 feet – almost 10 feet above flood stage, but still about a foot lower than the river reached after Hurricane Matthew two years ago.

The water reached the U.S. 117 bridge, but no higher. That was good news for Ronald and Amy King, who fled to Goldsboro from Wilmington last Wednesday and are ready to hit the road south.

"My babies are down in Wilmington, and I'm ready to get home," Amy King said.

"They done good," Ronald King said. "They got you veered off one lane one way, the other lane the other way, but at least you can go."

Charles Faire was watching out for floodwaters at a gas station along the highway south of Goldsboro.

"I'll be glad when this storm is over. I got my grandchildren with me from Fayetteville. I can't get them back home, their daddy can't get here to get them, and their grandmama is stuck in Kinston," Faire said. "So we are just stuck."

Neuse River crests in Goldsboro

Faire was born in Wayne County and said he's used to the challenges of getting around after hurricanes.

"I was here when Matthew and all the rest of them came, so you get accustomed to this kind of stuff," he said. "I just hate it for people that had to travel through here and don't have no other way to get around."

Rossanna Pedler said she and her husband were headed from the Washington, D.C., area to check on property in Carolina Beach, but they ran into trouble on Interstate 95, which has been closed because of flooding.

"The map shows that it's open, but when we got there, it was closed. So, we just detoured off 95 and followed the detour down to Wilson," Pedler said, expressing admiration for the crews that have kept U.S. 117 open.

Wayne County Manager Craig Honeycutt said flooding along the Neuse hasn't yet required any evacuations or water rescues. Officials have gone door to door in some neighborhoods, however, to warn residents of the potential danger.

"The scab of Matthew is there," Honeycutt said, noting people across the county learned from the 2016 floods and are more wary now. "Matthew had an incredible amount of rain in a short period. [Florence] has been such an extended period."

One of the lessons county officials learned is to station resources both north and south of the Neuse in case rising water cuts off access to the other side, he said.

With the river cresting, Goldsboro and county officials lifted a curfew that has been in effect in recent days, and county offices will reopen Wednesday. But classes in Wayne County schools remain canceled through the end of the week because some areas roads are underwater.