HURRICANE FLORENCE: Flooding expected to continue for days

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Rivers still rising; many roads still closed; ongoing rescue efforts

PENDER COUNTY — Much of Southeastern North Carolina remains under water and isolated, officials said during a press conferences Tuesday morning.

“We still encourage people who left the area to stay where you are,” New Hanover County Commissioners Chairman Woody White said. “We love you. We miss you. But access to Wilmington is still limited and is not improving.”

“This is going to be a trying time for all of us, so please be patient,” Emergency Management Director Tom Collins said.

Even as officials painted a dire scene — thousands in shelters, thousands saved from flooded homes or cars, huge rescue trucks unable to traverse many roads — they delivered messages of hope.

“From here, it’s just going to get better,” Pender County Sheriff Carson Smith said. “You’ve just got to hang on a little bit longer.”

“We’re going to get through this,” Pender County Commissioners Chairman George Brown said. “We’re going to come back from this and be better for it.”

Hurricane Florence and its aftermath brought historic flooding and rainfall to the county, officials said. It washed out roads and has seen parts of the Black River and Northeast Cape Fear River surpass previous flood records. And more is coming as rainfall from areas west of Southeastern North Carolina flows toward the region, Sheriff Carson Smith said.

“The rivers are going to continue to rise over the next 24 to 48 hours,” the sheriff said.

White said New Hanover County is likewise bracing for rising waters even as the sun shone Tuesday. And he said the deluge of water is bringing other hazards, including sinkholes in roads.

“Additional flooding is expected,” White said. “We cannot reiterate enough to stay off the roads.”

Collins said the county has opened two routes in and out after having been isolated because of the storm. While Interstate 40 remains closed north of Wilmington and through much of Pender County, parts of U.S. 17 and Route 53 are clear enough to travel.

Regarding I-40, the major link to the Port City is still closed from Exit 385 (Wallace) to Exit 416 (Castle Hayne), according to N.C. Department of Transportation spokeswoman Kelly Haight.

Collins said residents who left the area before the storm should stay where they are at least through Tuesday. He said officials are hoping to keep the travel lanes open for emergency vehicles and for supply runs. Even if residents can get into the county, he said, many interior roads remain flooded or impassable.

“You might not be able to actually get back to your home,” Collins said.

In New Hanover County, White agreed.

“You’re coming back to a place that still has limited power and access to things you need,” he said. “It’s just not a good idea.”

Due to Florence’s floodwaters, Brunswick County remained divided into three separate islands Tuesday.

In Southport, City Manager Bruce Oakley said in a Facebook update that Monday had been positive, with power restored throughout the area. Oakley also said water seemed to be lowering throughout the town.

“The city seemed to come to life a little with the power restored and clearer skies,” Oakley wrote. “It was nice seeing people out and even seeing some businesses open.”

Crews are working to repair washed-out roads such as the bridges at N.C. 87 and N.C. 211, he added.

Power also was slowly returning to many areas Tuesday.

Duke Energy spokesman Jerry Miller said Tuesday morning that the company has committed to restoring power to the three-county area by Sunday night. He said Duke crews have had the same difficulty accessing the region to make repairs to restore power.

“We know life doesn’t get back to normal until power is restored,” Miller said.

Smith, the Pender sheriff, asked that people be patient.

“We’re in the heat of it,” he said. “This is the part that’s the hardest … a couple of days after the event where we don’t have the things we’re used to having.”

Reporter Tim Buckland can be reached at 910-343-2217 or