Update: As of Tuesday afternoon, portions of Interstate 95 have been reopened. I-95 South is now closed betwwen Exit 56 (US-301) and Exit 13 (I-74), in Robeson and Cumberland County. I-95 North is closed between Exit 13 (I-74) and Exit 22 (US-301), in Robeson County.
North Carolina transportation officials closed 60 miles of Interstate 95 on Monday as flood waters from Hurricane Matthew continued to wreak havoc on motorists.
Gov. Pat McCrory urged safety as the top priority and had to pause during a Monday morning press conference to compose himself as he announced the storm had caused at least 10 deaths. The death toll rose to 11 later in the day.
"To the national audience, if you are planning to come through North Carolina...we don't recommend it at this point in time," McCrory said. "You're are going to be delayed and, frankly, our major priority is to get local traffic through for evacuations. And we will hold up traffic on 95 to give priority to people who need to evacuate neighborhoods at this point in time."
Transportation officials closed I-95 from exit 13 near Lumberton to exit 73, near Dunn. On Monday, the Rhodes Pond dam in Cumberland County was breached, which sent water running over U.S. Highway 301. Transportation officials had previously used U.S. 301 as a detour, but had to carve a wider berth after the additional flooding.
"We will try to get you through on detours, but if those detours are impacting local evacuations, you will wait," said McCrory. "And if you are waiting, we strongly encourage you, do not try to search for your own way in or out of I-95 because you yourself might get caught in a flood. And we would also prefer that you would stay out of Fayetteville at this point in time because of all the activity that we have going on with emergency vehicles."
The affected stretch of I-95 sees an average of between 40,000 and 50,000 cars per day, according to data from the North Carolona Department of Transportation.
Steve Abbott, a DOT spokesman, echoed McCrory's comments that drivers should avoid roads in the southeastern part of North Carolina.
"You may not realize as you approach, the water may be crossing the road," said Abbott. "You may get swept up, and it doesn’t take very much to pick up a vehicle even if you have a four wheel drive or even if you have the pickup truck with the jacked up wheels and so forth. It’s best to stay off those, turn around, look for another place or even just don’t go out. It’s still very, very dangerous on the roads in that southeastern part of the state."
It's unclear when the interstate will reopen for traffic.