The Cape Fear River has crested in Fayetteville at 61.4 feet

The Cape Fear River is cresting in Fayetteville. Overnight, the river hit 61.4 feet, more than 25 feet above its flood stage, which is 35 feet.

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Cullen Browder & Gilbert Baez
, WRAL reporters
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — The Cape Fear River is cresting in Fayetteville.

Early Wednesday, the river hit 61.4 feet, more than 25 feet above its flood stage, which is 35 feet, and people in low lying areas near the river have been warned to leave their homes before it's too late.

The rising river has put residents and business owners on edge in Harnett and Cumberland counties as the river crests from the Triangle to the coast, and WRAL meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner said it should be below flood stage by Saturday.

Waters Edge Drive in Erwin was living up to its name Tuesday, near where N.C. Highway 217 crosses the river.

"This is unbelievable compared to Matthew," Kurt Reed said, referring to the 2016 hurricane that also swamped the region.

"It's been a creeping death," Reed said as he watched the swollen river slowly pass his outbuilding and move closer to his home.

Brad Milacek's home on Olde Ferry Lane outside Erwin is usually 50 feet from the edge of the Cape Fear River and 25 feet above it, but it was surrounded by water on Tuesday. "It's been scary. We never expected it to get this high," Milacek said.

On the Harnett-Cumberland county line, the Little River also was swallowing homes.

In less than 24 hours, sisters-in-law Angie and Diana Wood helplessly watched the expanding river overtake their yards, barns, outbuildings and finally their homes.

"You know it's coming, but you don't know how bad and you don't know how fast," Angie Wood said.

"You almost want to hurry up and get it over with because you're tired of waiting," Diana Wood said.

"And you can't stop it," Angie Wood added. "When they said higher than Matthew, we still never anticipated this."

"We were told this wasn't going to happen again, and this is [almost] two years in a row," Diana Wood said. "Now, every hurricane season, this is what you're going to be worried about."

Throughout southern Harnett County and northern Cumberland County, roads and bridges were covered with water, isolating neighborhoods and making it tricky to get from one place to another.

The Little River continued to rise Tuesday evening and could force officials to close U.S. Highway 401.

Meanwhile, the Cape Fear River has leveled off in Harnett County and was expected to crest overnight in Fayetteville at close to 62 feet.

Person Street Bridge closed in Fayetteville

The state Department of Transportation on Tuesday afternoon closed the Person Street Bridge in downtown Fayetteville, which had become a popular spot to watch the Cape Fear River rise in recent days, because the water level had reached the underside of the bridge.

Lynn Williams bought the Person Street Bait and Tackle shop near the river earlier this year during an auction.

"We knew it had the potential of flooding, but we never really thought we were going to have another hurricane like Matthew, so it's kind of scary," Williams said.

Water was already in the basement of the building Tuesday, forcing her to move the supplies she had stored there to higher ground.

Regardless of how high the water gets inside, Williams wasn't discouraged.

"I never give up because, ultimately, I still believe God is in control," she said.

A nearby railroad trestle over the river had been transformed into a dam, with tree branches and other storm debris piled up against it. Water that cannot flow under the trestle has been forced to spread out toward downtown. While the Person Street Bridge has been shut down, some people have taken to walking on the railroad tracks over the trestle to get a close view of the flooded river.

Cumberland County officials ordered a mandatory evacuation of people within a mile of the river over the weekend, and resident Vickie Williams said she finally left Monday night during another heavy storm.

"I came back [Tuesday afternoon] to check on the house," Williams said as she surveyed the river.

When asked how Florence compared with Matthew, she simply said, "It's worse."

But Casey Grover and his mother refused to evacuate, saying they have a plan to escape the flooding.

"Behind our house are large berms and hills that the river would probably have to go up another 15 feet before it could even consider reaching us," Grover said.


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