NC officials say travel isn’t safe yet as flooding from Florence continues

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Gov. Roy Cooper and other state officials on Friday continued to warn people to be cautious on roads and not to travel to coastal areas affected by Florence. Flooding is expected to continue through next week, officials said, and in some places longer.

“The opening and closing of roads are changing as the flooding continues,” Cooper said at his news briefing at the emergency operations center in West Raleigh. “I can’t stress enough, don’t drive around barricades. Your car is not enough to protect you from dangerous flood waters, even if it only seems like a few inches.”

People should not drive south of U.S. 70 and east of U.S. 1 in North Carolina, he said.

Meanwhile, Duke Energy and state environmental regulators say it’s possible that flooding caused coal ash to spill out into the Cape River from flooding after Hurricane Florence.

“What we know is the Cape Fear River has spilled into the Sutton Lake,” Michael Regan, director of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, said Friday. “Sutton Lake has spilled over into Duke’s transmission yard, so they have evacuated their employees.”

As of Friday morning, there were more than 600 road closures across the state, Cooper said.

Interstates within 12 locations around the state are experiencing high water and flooding, primarily on Interstate 40 and Interstate 95, Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon said. A total of 141 roads are under high water, he said, up slightly from Thursday. Those include about 40 U.S. routes and 89 primary roads.

Cooper also asked that some coastal residents not try to drive home just yet.

“I know that is a big request with people wondering what is left of their homes, but with power still out in many places and new roads flooding every hour, we need to keep the few routes we have clear for emergency vehicles,” Cooper said.

Water rescues in Bladen County

About 100 people had to be evacuated by boat and air late Thursday and early Friday after the town of Kelly in Bladen County flooded when the Cape Fear River breached the levy there, Cooper said.

“The North Carolina National Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard flying with night vision goggles heroically saved lives,” he said.

First responders have executed about 5,000 rescues, Cooper said, more than twice the number that occurred during Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

About 56,000 people are without power, Cooper said, and 3,700 people remain in shelters.

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The number of non-functioning cell towers is down to single digits, he said.

The state is requesting the federal government cover 100 percent of its disaster response costs for the first 30 days of this effort instead of the usual 75 percent, he said.

Officials don’t yet know the full extent of the damage, he said. The storm has claimed 31 lives in North Carolina.

“After several days of a storm like this, it is important to remember that is more than just a number,” Cooper said.

Major flood areas in NC

Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry, who pointed out that the state was in day 12 of the Hurricane Florence operation, outlined the areas that continue to be impacted by major flooding in eastern portions of the state.

Those areas include Kinston and Barnwell in Lenoir County.

“Kinston is still rising,” he said. “Kinston is expected to have flooding peak tomorrow.”

Sprayberry’s updates on other areas included:

  • Hookerton in Greene County is reporting major flood stage. Flooding is expected through Sept. 28.
  • In Jones County, Trenton and Pollocksville are reporting moderate flooding that is expected to last through Sept. 27.
  • In Pender County, areas near Burgaw and N.C. 210 are reporting major flood status that is expected to remain through Sept. 28.
  • Chinquapin in Duplin County is reporting major flood status with flood waters expected to remain through Sept 23.
  • In Bladen County major flooding is present near the towns of Tar Heel and Kelly, and is expected to continue through Sept. 28
  • Lumberton in Roberson County is reporting major flood status. The water has receded slightly, but the second peak of flooding is expected to occur Sunday reaching about one-half foot lower than the initial peak, Sprayberry said. The flooding is expected to decline there slowly through Oct. 5.
  • In Columbus County, the town of Fair Bluff is reporting major flood status with water starting to decline, but a second peak is also expected.

The state emergency response team continues to be engaged in communities across the state, Sprayberry said. It is operating eight massive feeding kitchens in areas that include Wilmington, Jacksonville and Kinston.

“We are also engaged in detailed planning for activation of the temporary shelter assistance program,” Sprayberry said. “We anticipate establish disaster recovery centers in coming days.”

FEMA on the ground

Albie Lewis, federal coordinating officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said there are hundreds of people working with the state and in the field, including 275 disaster assistance survivor assistance teams.

Nearly 63,000 folks registered for assistance with more than $8.3 million approved, he said.

People affected by the storm shouldn’t wait for federal officials to start their repairs, he said.

People should document their damage by taking photos and saving all repair-related receipts.

FEMA, he said, is just one part of a team of local, federal, state and voluntary organizations to assist residents.

“Although FEMA cannot make you whole again, it will help you recover and move forward by providing grants for basic repairs to make your home safe, sanitary,” he said.

Some schools opening

Some hard hit counties were working toward some sort of normalcy Friday.

Cumberland County, which includes Fayetteville, announced it would open schools on a two-hour delay Monday. The delay allows bus and others to make their way in daylight and avoid road dangers.

Students were allowed onto the UNC Wilmington campus Thursday and Friday to retrieve cars they’d left before evacuating for the storm.

UNCW was among three public university campuses still closed. Fayetteville State University is scheduled to reopen Monday. UNCW will tentatively resume classes Oct. 1. UNC Pembroke hasn’t announced a date for resuming classes on campus.

Staff reporters John Murawski and Jane Stancill contributed to this report.

V irginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges