Floodwaters Begin Receding Across Eastern N.C.

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CHINQUAPIN, N.C. — The Northeast Cape Fear River began receding Monday after rising more than 5 feet above flood stage and leaving roads, homes, and businesses flooded in eastern counties.

Volunteer evacuations continued Monday along the river in Duplin County, more than three days after Tropical Storm Ernesto dumped 8 to 12 inches of rain on parts of eastern North Carolina.

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    Authorities in the county said more than 100 people were evacuated Saturday in what authorities called the worst flooding since Hurricane Floyd seven years ago. Homes, businesses, fields and roads were all underwater Monday.

    A shelter remains open at an elementary school in Wallace, about 34 miles west of Jacksonville, said Linwood Kennedy, assistant fire marshal for the county. He didn't know how many people were staying there.

    "We're evacuating people that wish to get out but we're not mandatory evacuating," said Andrew Hanchey, officer in charge with the North East Volunteer Fire Department in Wallace. "We're just standing by for emergencies."

    The river had risen to more than 18 feet -- 5 feet above flood stage -- before it started receding Monday, said Kevin Laws, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Morehead City. The river had dropped at least 2 inches by Monday evening, and area creeks were also receding.

    "What we have is numerous roads are still flooded," Laws said. "Evacuations will still be needed for residents (at) adjacent tributaries."

    Some homes and businesses were flooded along N.C. Highways 41 and 50 in the southeastern portion of the county, though officials said they didn't know how many.

    "It'll probably take a month or three weeks for (the house) to dry, and then we can start putting it all together," said Mike English, who lives along Island Creek.

    Much of his soggy furniture was in a trash heap outside his house Monday.

    The state Department of Transportation had to close N.C. 41/50 outside of Beaulaville Monday morning because floodwaters had undermined the roadway. Traffic between Wallace and Beaulaville was rerouted to the north.

    DOT crews were repairing the damage, but officials said the highway would remain closed at least into early Tuesday.

    Capt. Stanley Jones with the Duplin County sheriff's office said conditions were getting better as waters began to recede.

    "We are seeing a little improvement," he said.

    Residents who evacuated low-lying areas might be able to return home by Tuesday or Wednesday, authorities said. Meanwhile, teams of Red Cross volunteers are providing food and clothes to residents who have been displaced.

    Melvin Williams didn't have to evacuate his home along N.C. 41. The floodwaters weren't as bad as they were after Hurricane Floyd, he said.

    "I'm just thankful it didn't get back in the house," Williams said. "I don't want to have to go through that again, having to remodel."

    Authorities said motorists have been ignoring road closure signs along N.C. 41 and N.C. 50 and driving around them. Motorists in Pitt County were doing the same thing.

    "People are not watching the barricades, they do not respect them," said Noel Lee, Pitt County Emergency Management director. "They are getting stuck in the water and it's putting EMS personnel in jeopardy."

    The Tar River in Pitt County was expected to crest at 14.2 feet early Tuesday morning -- more than 2 feet above flood stage.

    On Sunday, the Pender County Emergency Operations Center extended its operations through Monday because of the high level of the Northeast Cape Fear River near Burgaw, where a flood warning was in effect.

    "We're hoping it'll crest a little over 15½ feet, hopefully by Tuesday. Until we get a crest on that river, there will be people in the operations center," said Eddie King, the Pender County emergency management director.

    A dozen National Guard troops and a special operations unit were brought to Pender County from Wayne County to help manage the situation.

    Further north in Pasquotank County, life was slowly returning to normal after the area was hit with about 12 inches of rain since Tropical Storm Ernesto entered the state just before midnight Thursday.

    More than 60 people vacated their homes and officials estimated that about 30 homes suffered interior flood damage.

    Diane Pierce-Tamplen and her husband, Al, said the 6 to 8 inches of water in their garage was the worse flooding they'd seen in 20 years at their home.

    "We have a friend who put on a scuba suit and helped us get our boat," Diane Pierce-Tamplen said.

    Her husband said they saw a 5-foot water moccasin in their front yard.

    State officials on Monday lifted advisories against swimming in the ocean and coastal rivers from Virginia to South Carolina, saying tests showed no elevated bacteria levels.

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