As hurricane floodwaters surged, NC cemetery needed a way to stop coffins from rising

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Hurricane floodwaters have been sucking coffins out of the ground at Goldsboro’s Elmwood Cemetery for more than 20 years, so city officials decided to try something new as Hurricane Florence neared the coast Friday.

Their solution involved sandbags: Not to keep the flood water out, but to keep the coffins down.

More than 1,200 sandbags were piled atop 200 graves “prone to displacement,” Goldsboro cemetery director Timothy Irving told North Carolina Health News.

It worked, for the most part, reports the Goldsboro News-Argus.

When waters from the Neuse River poured across the city-managed cemetery this week, a drone showed only two caskets floating around, the newspaper reported.

One of them was pink, said North Carolina Health News.

A third floating coffin was later reported by WRAL, which quoted town officials as explaining floods cause “lids to pop off” old grave vaults.

While any floating coffin is disturbing, three is an improvement over 2016 when Hurricane Matthew flooding caused 36 vaults to pop open, according to a July 13 article in The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

The displacement in 2016 was so bad that city crews had to roam the 23-acre cemetery in boats, trying to catch the coffins with ropes, the newspaper reported.

Images posted this week by WRAL and the News-Argus showed the Goldsboro Fire Department used much the same means to catch the three coffins found floating Wednesday.

A Charlotte Observer article published on Sept. 22, 1999, noted vaults have been popping open in the cemetery since at least 1996, when Hurricane Fran flooded the site. That year, crews chased the coffins with four-wheel-drive trucks, the Observer reported.

The Neuse River near the cemetery rose by more than 26 feet this week, and the resulting floodwaters have “caused much of the city to shut down,” reported WNCN Tuesday.

Mark Price: 704-358-5245, @markprice_obs