GREENVILLE, N.C. – Police officers and firefighters in eastern North Carolina cruised low-lying areas and shouted a simple message from bullhorns: Get out before the floodwaters from Hurricane Matthew arrive.
Thousands of people were ordered to evacuate, and officials warned that some communities could be cut off by washed out roads or bridge closures. In the city of Greenville, military trucks rumbled through leafy neighbourhoods where orange traffic cones and police tape discouraged people from entering. Police were stationed at the edge of the evacuation zone to monitor who came and went.
Authorities planned to go door-to-door in some areas, telling people to escape to higher ground. The flooding triggered by heavy rain from Matthew — which killed more than 500 people in Haiti — has left at least 35 dead in the U.S.
“There are a lot of people that are hurting, that are living in shelters and are preparing for major, major flooding,” North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said Wednesday.
Authorities closed one bridge across the swollen Tar River in Greenville and warned that several other bridges could close, isolating people. The city’s airport was expected to remain closed for another week due to flooding.
Still, Greenville resident John Benson felt confident his house would be OK. His block didn’t take on water during Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and his street is on a steep grade, making a quick getaway possible.
“Police, fire people, came around, bull-horning and talking to us. They let everybody know to get out,” he said.
Many people did obey orders to leave their homes.
At a shelter in Greenville, Brianna Flores was anxiously waiting to find out more about how flooding affected her family’s trailer home in Princeville, a community along the Tar River. She said she and her husband packed two days’ worth of clothes and first came to a hotel in Greenville before moving to a shelter Sunday. They wanted to be close to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville because her sister-in-law is pregnant.
Flores said she and her husband do not have flood insurance and lack the savings to buy a new home if their trailer is flooded. She hopes they would be eligible for assistance from FEMA.
She hasn’t been able to get firm information on her neighbourhood. A state interactive flooding map shows that areas next to her neighbourhood have flooded.
“Nobody’s been able to get into Princeville,” she said, with her 16-month daughter Ilyaona seated on her lap in a room where the shelter stored bottles of water, snacks and dry food.
“I’m very anxious. Very stressed. I’ve broke down a few times, just because I’m worried. But I’ve gotta stay strong for her and my husband, and my family,” she said.
If they need a long-term solution, they could go to her parents in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
Flooding conditions in Fayetteville were expected to last until Friday, while the Neuse River in Kinston was expected to peak Saturday.
“We want you to evacuate these low-lying areas absolutely and immediately,” Kinston Mayor BJ Murphy told WITN-TV on Wednesday. “The time to get out is now.”
In a possible sign of storm-driven tensions, authorities said a state trooper shot and killed an armed man in Lumberton who became angry with officers carrying out search and rescue missions. They released little other information about the shooting.
In the hard-hit town of Lumberton, along the bloated Lumber River, Ada Page spent two nights sleeping in a hard plastic folding chair at a shelter put together so hastily there were no cots. People had to use portable toilets outside.
“I left at home all my clothes, everything. The only thing I have is this child and what I was driving,” said Page, who was with an 8-year-old granddaughter.
The full extent of the disaster in North Carolina was still unclear, but it appeared that thousands of homes were damaged. Many likened Matthew to Hurricane Floyd, which did $3 billion in damage and destroyed 7,000 homes in North Carolina as it skirted the state’s coast in 1999.
Dalesio reported from Lumberton, North Carolina. Associated Press writers Meg Kinnard in Nichols, South Carolina; Jack Jones and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina; and Tom Foreman Jr. in Charlotte, North Carolina; contributed to this report.