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Princeville Recovery Continues Five Years After Floyd

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PRINCEVILLE, N.C. — When Hurricane Floyd devastated eastern North Carolina in 1999, perhaps no town felt her wrath so completely as the Edgecombe County town of Princeville.

All of the town's 2,000 residents had to evacuate to escape rising water. When the water receded, every structure in the town was damaged.

The town was founded by freed slaves in 1885. True to its roots, the town rose to the challenge of rebuilding homes and people's spirits.

Hurricane Floyd turned the town of Princeville into a massive lake and the hopes and dreams of its residents into tears.

"On the house, it came to the rooftop. You could just see part of the house, the top sticking out," said George Harrison of his 120-year-old family home lost to Floyd's flood waters.

At the time, all he could do was cry.

"You can never forget it. This is something that you will never in life forget," he said.

Today, Harrison has a new home on the very spot where the old one sat.

Floyd damaged or destroyed 679 homes in Princeville. The town refused to participate in the federal buyout, choosing instead to rebuild.

"It's been a blessing in disguise for everyone in Princeville. It really has been," city manager Sam Knight said.

Knight said few people wanted to leave. They wanted more than $9 million in government and private money to put the pieces back together.

"The average house in the town was about $49,000 to $59,000. Now they are about $79,000 to $89,000," Knight said.

"[Princeville's] building itself back up slowly, but surely," flood victim Barbara Atkinson said.

After the storm, Atkinson moved to a brand new neighborhood built by Lowe's and Habitat for Humanity. Her new house has amenities she never had before.

"I'm better now. I've got central heat and air conditioning," she said.

There are other positive signs. A new town hall has replaced the old one and open space where flooded trailers once stood may become a site for a park.

Floyd's reminders are easy to find, from abandoned homes to empty stores. Many businesses in eastern North Carolina were not able to find enough money to reopen.

"We're still rebuilding," Knight said. "We have not completed our rebuild process. We're continuously going after money to do things to try to help us out."

"The damage that was done to Princeville, after you regain from the damage that was done, it has to give you strength to move," Harrison said.

Residents say they will keep moving forward as long as they can call this town home.


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