‘Just waiting for the river to come up;’ Goldsboro braces for Neuse flooding

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Members of the Mar-Mac Volunteer Fire Department were busy as Hurricane Florence raked Goldsboro with wind and sheets of rain, including 30 calls to its swift-water rescue team.

On Sunday, as the rain subsided and the flash flood waters began to recede, some members of the department took a break at the fire station just south of the city knowing that more work lay ahead.

“We’re just waiting for the river to come up,” said Chief Tommy Baker.

He could have spoken for all of Wayne County, an hour east of Raleigh, where the Neuse River winds its way toward the sea. The river rose quickly Friday and reached a “moderate” flood level on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. But as the swollen creeks and swamps upstream drained, the river continued to rise even after the rain stopped and is now expected to crest at 26.8 feet sometime on Tuesday.

That’s about three feet shy of the record for the Neuse at Goldsboro, set less than two years ago after Hurricane Matthew. On Saturday, members of the Mar-Mac Fire Department fanned out through the low-lying neighborhoods near the station to knock on doors and hand out flyers that compared the expected flooding to Matthew and urged residents to evacuate.

Baker said he expected most people would heed the warning.

“They remember Matthew,” he said. “It’s still fresh in their brains.”

Numan Herrera didn’t need any persuading to begin moving out of his home in the Edwards Mobile Home Park off Old Grantham Road. Herrera was watching TV with his friend Yobany Castillo when the firefighters knocked on their door Saturday afternoon, and the two men immediately began packing, starting with the TV.

Herrera, a long-haul trucker, was living here when Matthew sent the Neuse over its banks. The river is some 500 yards from the home, off somewhere in the trees, and he never imagined the water would reach it. When the river crested, nearly three feet of water had gotten inside.

“I lost everything,” he said in an interview Sunday.

He has pictures on his phone of volunteers from the N.C. Baptist Men helping rip out the damaged dry wall and of his mother painting the new walls. Altogether, he spent $18,000 and nearly a year to get it ready to move back in. A year later, he was moving what he could into storage, piling furniture onto his dining room table and sleeping in the cab of his truck.

About half of the 99 spaces in the mobile home park are still empty or occupied by homes ruined by Matthew, owner Haywood Outlaw said. He has owned the park for 24 years and remembers when Old Grantham Road and the side streets were lined with houses.

Now there are few houses left, which should reduce the number of people touched by the flood this time. Some never rebuilt after Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and even more sold out to the federal government after Matthew.

“There’s no telling how many houses there were between here and the Burger King” on U.S. 117, he said. “They just got tired of rebuilding.”

Outlaw called one of his tenants, Diane Scott, to warn her about the rising water Sunday. Scott, a traveling surgical nurse from California, had left town Thursday to stay with a friend in Maryland and left her motor home in Goldsboro. She arrived Sunday afternoon to hook her Jeep up to the back and drive the motor home to a hotel in Wilson.

“This is like a horrifying experience for me,” Scott said. “I just got here two weeks ago. Welcome to North Carolina.”