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Debris-Choked Waterways Still Plague Down East Communities

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WILSON — Hurricane Floyd left its mark on North Carolina in September 1999. Almost a year after the historic floods, many waterways in the eastern part of the state are still full of storm debris.

Hominy Canal is practically empty on a dry day, but when it rains, about 40 percent of the water that falls on Wilson ends up there. It can rise very rapidly, and some property owners say it is rising more quickly than it should because of government neglect.

Grady Barnes does not have to think back to last September to remember flooding. Water flowed into his business last week. Conditions were so bad, he had to shut down and send his employees home for the day.

The floodwater came from the Hominy Canal, and Barnes thinks the government should take the blame. The canal, he says, is still choking on hurricane debris, and that is why it overflowed.

"The city and the state and the federal government need to do something about this canal -- getting it dredged, getting it cleaned out," Barnes says. "It may not prevent flooding in the future, but at least the water will be able to flow unincumbered."

The canal is unusual because it is partly owned by the state, the city of Wilson and some private owners.

The city says help is on the way for areas under its authority. A partial cleanup is scheduled to begin next month. City leaders blame the delay on taking care of more critical needs.

Charles Pittman, Wilson's deputy city manager, says, "It's not like nothing's been done. There has been a lot done. It's just that there's much more to do, and the canal is so large that it is extremely difficult to address it totally without dropping everything else and literally addressing only the canal."

Radio station owner Wallace Bullock has his fingers crossed. His station is still set up in an 18-wheeler because of Floyd. The water was too close for comfort last week, and he wants relief before the next storm blows in.

"It used to rain out there probably three or four days for rain like this," he says. "Now, just only one hour the other day it rained. Believe it or not, the ditch was full. Overwhelming."

Some places will be left out of that cleanup because of state laws that protect areas around the water. As one property owner put it, the government is treating wildlife better than taxpayers.


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