The flooding in North Carolina hasn’t ended — far from it. Water will continue above flood stage in many cities and towns through next week, and we’re finally getting a chance to see exactly how much these rivers have grown since Hurricane Matthew swept through on Saturday.
Princeville, N.C., has a tormented history with hurricanes. In 1999, the town was decimated when the Tar River came pouring over the city’s levee and filled its streets with up to 20 feet of water. The flood was caused by Hurricane Floyd’s heavy rainfall on saturated soil, which is exactly what happened again this month during Hurricane Matthew. Floyd left the city abandoned and devastated.
As the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote one month after the storm, “this is Princeville, the oldest incorporated African American settlement in the country, reduced to little more than a collection of darkened homes with mud-caked windows and empty businesses cordoned off by yellow police tape.”
People returned and the city was rebuilt. President Bill Clinton created a council tasked with creating a plan that would protect the town from events like this, but very little came of that, and the levee is no higher than it was in 1999.
The Post’s Chico Harlan was in Princeville on Wednesday, at which point the water had only begun to creep over the newly-constructed dike that was added to fortify the levee. But then things got worse on Thursday. Water poured into the city and flooded nearly every road and building. Churches, schools and homes were all inundated.
Lumberton drew the first wave of national attention to North Carolina’s flooding disaster. Water measured in feet rose across the town after the levee that runs along Interstate 95 was overtopped by the Lumber River. Harlan was in the city on Monday as water poured in:
A white area of town was preserved, while a lower-lying African American part now stands in several feet of water. That disparity, also seen in some North Carolina towns after 1999 flooding from Hurricane Floyd, is the legacy of geographic segregation in which blacks were pushed toward less desirable — and often lower-lying — land. But in other sections of the state, emergency officials say, a diverse group of people have been pushed from their homes.
On the Neuse River, a gauge in Smithfield reported a record height: 29.09 feet on Sunday. At 27.5, the National Weather Service notes, water flows over the dike at the city’s water treatment plant and threatens its main operations building. A water boil advisory was issued for the city, then was lifted Thursday after the town performed its own water tests.
The bulge in the Neuse River continued downstream and brought a record-high crest to Goldsboro on Wednesday. It topped Hurricane Floyd’s record by almost a foot. “When a flood like this hits, the pain of it is exacerbated by the poverty,” said the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and pastor of a church in Goldsboro. “What we’re taking about, particularly in eastern Carolina, are some of the poorest communities in the country — black and white, who already had economic challenges before something like this.”
The Neuse River is cresting at a record in Kinston on Friday. The town was hit hard by flash flooding during Hurricane Matthew, and it didn’t get much of a chance to clean up before the storm’s second blow. This imagery from Thursday doesn’t even capture the river’s crest in Kinston, which occurred Friday.