Dozens rescued as waters rise in eastern N.C.
Posted October 1, 2010 4:46 p.m. EDT
Updated October 2, 2010 12:09 a.m. EDT
Windsor, N.C. — People in eastern North Carolina coped with blocked roads, closed schools and flood waters that were still rising Friday, even after a storm system that dropped 10 or more inches of rain across the eastern part of the state.
Throughout the day, emergency crews raced to rescue people trapped in homes and vehicles by overflowing rivers and creeks. Some rivers won’t peak until some time during the weekend, so conditions in parts of the state could get worse before the waters recede.
“The sheriff just went by our neighborhood in a boat,” said Emily Pilloton of Windsor in Bertie County. “They’ve been evacuating people all day.”
By Friday night, more than 100 people had been rescued and at least 100 homes and buildings, including Windsor’s town hall, were surrounded by water.
Just after 7 p.m., the Windsor House, an assisted living center, was evacuated due to rising water. Between 40 to 50 residents were rescued, deputies said. Alzheimer's patients at the facility will be transported to other facilities in Wilson and Edenton.
State emergency officials said Bertie may have been the worst-hit county with floods leaving many areas inaccessible by land.
Rescue workers in the area warned that the waters contained hazardous materials, gasoline, diesel fuel and sewage.
Johnny Pierce, owner of the Heritage House Restaurant in Windsor, said the water rose 20 inches in about an hour. He estimated that his restaurant sustained about $200,000 worth of damage and will take up to three months to put back together.
“Who expected this without a hurricane?,” Pierce said.
Water levels at Windsor’s neighbor, the Cashie River, were up to 15.69 feet as of 5 p.m. Friday, and were slowly rising. The only other highest level was in September 1999 after Hurricane Floyd, when the river crested at 18.52 feet.
“The flood that we had years back never came in my front yard, but everybody says you can’t tell what it’s going to do this time,” Mamie White, 79, said. “You now, they said I better get out, so here I am.”
Overnight the First Response Team, a national nonprofit disaster aid group, arrived in Windsor with a hovercraft and began rescuing people trapped by swift-moving floodwaters, including one man who tried to make his way through the currents on foot.
“He was standing there, hanging on to nothing,” said Tad Agoglia, the group’s founder. “When we got him in the hovercraft, he just held onto me. I’ve never had a full-grown man hold onto me like that, where all I could feel was his body shaking.”
Water in some parts of town was neck-high and rising, Pilloton said.
“It’s getting worse and worse by the hour,” she said.
A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter was dispatched to rescue a woman whose car was swept off N.C. Highway 561 near Ahoskie Friday morning. While trying to get to her, the rescue crew was diverted to a nearby stranded motorist who was hoisted from his pickup truck into the aircraft.
Before it could get back to the woman, the helicopter was sent to rescue another stranded motorist. A swift water response team helped the woman from her car.
State officials also announced partial evacuations in Beaufort, Craven, Duplin and Pender counties, where rising waters were particularly dangerous for people in low-lying areas. State emergency planners predicted that parts of Burgaw, Elizabethtown, Smithfield, Goldsboro, Kinston, Tarboro and Windsor will face minor to moderate flooding into early next week.
Jeffrey Holland was buying parts for his motorboat at Lanier Do It Best Hardware in Burgaw Friday so he could pilot the craft to his house nearby. The weather reminded him of the drenching and destruction caused by Hurricane Floyd 11 years ago.
“There was two feet of water in my garage this morning, and it rose two inches in one hour,” he said. “Floyd was worse, but this is getting there.”
Dozens were evacuated Friday from a Beaufort County mobile home park between Washington and Greenville, assistant county manager Jim Chrisman said. About three dozen people were being housed at a Red Cross shelter, but not all of them were from the mobile homes, he said.
About 50 people in New Bern asked for help getting out of their homes Thursday as flooding forced rescuers into boats, Deputy Fire Chief Bobby Boyd said. Water around the city had been five feet deep in spots on Thursday, but had receded to two- or three-feet deep Friday morning.
“It’s getting better as we speak,” Boyd said.
Farther south, Wilmington was soaked by its rainiest five-day period on record since 1871. The city’s 22.54 inches in collected rainfall easily beat Hurricane Floyd’s 19.06 inches in 1999.
Wide areas east of Interstate 95 saw rainfall of 10 inches or more, said meteorologist Scott Kennedy at the National Weather Service in Newport.
“That area saw copious amounts of rain,” he said.
After about 15 inches of rain in Kinston, the Neuse River there wasn’t expected to crest until Tuesday evening at three feet above flood stage, Kennedy said.
All major interstates across North Carolina were open Friday, but more than 140 state and local roads and bridges remained closed throughout eastern North Carolina. A few flood-related road closures were reported as far inland as Johnston County.
U.S. Highway 17 was closed in several locations, including south of Windsor, south of Maysville in Jones County and north of Jacksonville in Onslow County. Parts of U.S. Highway 158 in Elizabeth County, U.S. Highway 264 in Beaufort County and U.S. Highway 421 in Carolina Beach were also closed.
Many school districts delayed the start of classes or closed altogether on Friday. Flooding bad road conditions led Marine commanders to close schools at Camp Lejeune and New River Air Station, and to direct military and civilian workers to delay reporting to base for two hours.
Near Sneads Ferry south of the Marine base, a shrimp boat took on water and sank, leaking fuel into water, the Coast Guard said. Investigators will determine whether the boat’s owner will be responsible for cleaning up the spill.
The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources warned that chemicals and untreated waste would likely pollute coastal waters. Carolina Beach and Bald Head Island were two of the coastal towns pumping floodwaters into the surf, the agency said.
“Waters impacted by this unusual storm event can contain elevated levels of bacteria that can make people sick,” said J.D. Potts, manager of the Recreational Water Quality Program.