Eastern N.C. Slow To Dry Out After Ernesto

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GOLDSBORO, N.C. — Flooded roads contined to make travel across eastern North Carolina tricky Saturday, and rising waters prompted calls for some areas to be evacuated.

More than 200 roads statewide have been affected by the rains Tropical Storm Ernesto dumped on North Carolina late Thursday and early Friday, according to the state Department of Transportation.

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    High water has affected Interstate 40 between Interstate 95 and Wilmington, but traffic is moving, authorities said. Widespread flooding is also reported on many secondary roads, including N.C. Highways 24 and 50 in Duplin, Onslow, Pender and Sampson counties.

    DOT engineers were able to reopen on eastbound lane of U.S. Highway 70 near Goldsboro on Saturday. A dam on a nearby farm pond failed during Ernesto, and the rush of water undermined the roadbed and created a sinkhole in the highway Friday.

    U.S. 70 is a major link between the Triangle and North Carolina beaches, and DOT crews will continue working to reopen the second eastbound lane before the holiday weekend concludes.

    The Cape Fear River is expected to crest early Sunday in Duplin County at 17.5 feet, or nearly 5 feet above flood stage. Although mandatory evacuations haven't been ordered, county authorities are urging residents in low-lying areas to leave their homes.

    "Ernesto spared most of our state from major damage, but the 8 to 12 inches of rain that fell when the storm came ashore in southeastern North Carolina is still causing problems for our coastal areas," Gov. Mike Easley said, following an aerial tour of damage in Duplin and Pender counties. "If we can keep people off the flooded roads at least for the rest of the weekend, we should be OK."

    In the Maple Hill area of Pender County, the Cape Fear River washed over the banks, and seven people were rescued from a trailer park, authorities said.

    One hundred National Guard soldiers have been deployed in Duplin and Pasquotank counties, and swift-water rescue teams are also in place, authorities said.

    "We have teams ready to assess flood damage and provide assistance to those who suffered loss, if requested by local officials," Easley said. "I want our citizens to know the state is here to support them."

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