Record-breaking flooding in North Carolina prolongs the agony from Florence

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Towns and counties around the state are preparing for more havoc from river flooding, days after Hurricane Florence dissipated and swirled away from the coast.

“For many parts of North Carolina, the danger is still immediate,” Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday morning. “Flood waters are rising as rivers crest, and they will be for days.”

The Black, Little, Cape Fear, Lumber and Neuse rivers are “inundated,” Cooper said. Thirteen more will reach moderate or major flood stages.

Hundreds of Pender residents had been rescued from flood waters by Monday afternoon by boat, helicopter and heavy vehicle, said county spokeswoman Tammy Proctor. And it’s not over.

The North East Cape Fear River was at 23 feet high Monday afternoon. That was about 12 feet higher than flood stage — and it is forecast to go higher in the next few days. The National Weather Service forecast has the North East Cape Fear near Burgaw rising another foot by Thursday.

The Black River, which runs along the county’s southeast corner, hit a high during Hurricane Matthew of 27.9 feet. By Monday it was higher by nearly a foot, she said.

The county continued to instruct residents Monday on how to signal for rescue from flooded homes. Go to the roof, not the attic. Bring a white towel and a flashlight. During daylight, wave the towel. At night, wave the flashlight.

“This is new to a lot of folks,” Proctor said. “We have a lot of people who are not from North Carolina and they do not know what it’s like to be in a hurricane and flooding of this magnitude.”

What to expect from the rivers this week

Hurricane Florence has swollen sections of three rivers in the Carolinas to record-setting levels. On Monday, river gauges on the Cape Fear River near Burgaw, the Cape Fear River near Chinquapin, the Lumber River at Lumberton and the Little River near Manchester showed levels that exceeded earlier high water marks. The Cape Fear River near Chinquapin was running nearly five feet above the record set in 1999, and 15 feet above flood stage. The Cape Fear reading near Chinquapin is questionable, however, because the gauge is under water.

By Saturday, two more river gauges are expected to show record-setting water levels. The water in Black Creek near Quinby is predicted to crest at 16.9 feet on Tuesday. The Waccamaw River near Conway is expected to rise another four feet by Saturday, topping out at a record-breaking 18.7 feet. That’s more than seven feet above flood stage.

The water won’t recede quickly, especially near the coast. The Cape Fear River near Burgaw rose to record-setting levels about 9 a.m. Monday, and it’s expected to stay above the past high-water mark until at least Saturday. Water there is still rising. It’s predicted to crest on Thursday, hitting 24.2 feet, or 14.2 feet above flood stage. North Carolina emergency managers predict the flooding there will do more than $11 million in damage.

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A large number of the river gauges in the Carolinas are expected to hit their top Hurricane Florence readings on Tuesday. That includes the Neuse River near Goldsboro and Contentnea Creek at Hookerton. Both areas were already experiencing major flooding on Monday.

Another cluster of high-water marks is predicted for Saturday. That include the Waccamaw River near Conway and the Neuse River at Kinston. Both areas were also already experiencing major flooding on Monday.

The rivers in the western Carolinas escaped major flooding. Gauges around Asheville and Greenville showed spikes in river flows, but none so high as to indicate flooding.

‘I’ve never seen this much water’

The flooding has severed highways and shocked longtime residents.

Water was flowing across bridges and washing out roads in Montgomery County, about 90 miles southwest of Raleigh. The Little River near Troy in Montgomery County was at 24 feet Monday – 10 feet above flood stage.

Paved roads are washed away, and the highway north of Troy was impassable, said Jackie Morris, chairman of the Montgomery County commissioners.

“I’ve never seen this much water,” he said. “I’m 64 years old. I’ve been here all my life.”

The Neuse River through Lenoir County, about 83 miles southeast of Raleigh, is above flood stage. It’s not forecast to hit a record, but the water will keep rising for days.

A state road that connects southern and northern Lenoir is closed and will probably stay that way through the weekend, said county spokesman Bryan Hanks. Another road connecting north and south was set to close Monday night.

“We will be split in two,” Hanks said.

The county has opened a field hospital in southern Lenoir for emergencies, Hanks said.

The Cape Fear in Cumberland County is still rising. It’s expected to crest Tuesday morning at nearly 62 feet.

Bonner: 919-829-4821; @Lynn_Bonner