Local News

Princeville, hit hard by Hurricane Floyd, opens African American museum

Posted September 19, 2009 5:55 p.m. EDT
Updated October 18, 2011 9:37 a.m. EDT

— In 1999, Hurricane Floyd left nearly the entire town of Princeville underwater.

The Category 2 storm made landfall in Cape Fear, N.C. on Sept. 16, 1999 – days after another storm dropped up to 16 inches of rain across the eastern part of the state. The additional 12 to 20 inches of rain from Floyd overflowed riverbanks, causing floodwaters to cover roads and inundate entire communities.

Flooding lasted for more than a week in Princeville, damaging or destroying more than 700 homes.

"My house was flooded,” Princeville resident Marsha Baker-Coles said.

Floyd forced Baker-Coles and other residents to evacuate.

"Everything we owned was flooded," she said.

In the years since Floyd, Pinceville has rebuilt itself.

"We are survivors over in Princeville and God has blessed us,” Marsha Baker-Coles said.

Among the town's renovation was turning the old, flooded Town Hall into a African American cultural museum. The building was originally built as a school for black children in the late 1800s.

"(With) what we experienced personally you would have never thought that we would be able to celebrate a museum and that people would come by here and be able see what we experienced," Princeville resident Yolanda Thigpen said.

The museum, which will also serve as the town's welcome center, was unveiled Saturday during a ceremony.

"This is a piece of history of Princeville and we could not let it go. So we had to make sure that it stayed around to remind us that 24 feet of water in the town, and this is a step forward to move into the future,” Princeville Mayor Delia Perkins said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency handed out $26 million to Princeville's more than 2,000 residents and another $1.5 million to the town to rebuild after Floyd's floodwaters receded. FEMA funneled another $7 million to the area in the form of grants.

"People can come through the pain and rebuild. Ten years, it is a long time, but in many respects it is an opportunity to see the progress and know the struggles,” former state Rep. Eva Clayton said.

In all, 52 people in North Carolina died from the Floyd – most of whom drowned as they tried to flee to higher ground.

The floods destroyed more than 8,000 homes, damaged an additional 67,000 and caused more than $6 million in property damage. The Federal Emergency Management Agency declared 66 counties natural disaster areas.