I-95 Reopens From Fayetteville To Lumberton, Attention Turns To Flood Recovery

Updated 3:15 p.m. October 17, 2016

Governor Pat McCrory was in New Bern this afternoon to survey damage from the floods left behind by Hurricane Matthew. 

The state Department of Transportation says many roads are still closed in eastern North Carolina, but I-95 has reopened from Fayetteville to Lumberton.  At least 25 people have died in North Carolina. Most were trapped in the vehicles in the flooding.

Officials estimate that flooding from Hurricane Matthew has caused $1.5 billion in damage to 100,000 homes, businesses and government buildings.

Computer modeling determined that figure based on how many feet of water affected a given building, and how much damage the water caused, according to Assistant State Emergency Management Director John Dorman.

 With floodwaters yet to recede in some communities, Dorman said the number could fluctuate.

Meanwhile, as victims of Hurricane Matthew return to their homes, police are looking out for scam artists who might be posing as relief workers. Authorities in Fayetteville say scammers often search for victims in the weeks after disasters. Cumberland County was among the hardest hit areas in last week's record floods.

Fayetteville Police Chief Anthony Kelly said anyone suspected of scamming hurricane victims will be charged with a felony.

“We will work hard and relentlessly to run folks into the ground who violate our citizens,” said Kelly. “We have suffered enough.”

Updated Friday, October 14, 2016

Governor Pat McCrory visited the town of Tarboro Friday, where the Tar River is cresting. McCrory said it will take months for most Tarboro residents to recover from the record floods.

"The people don't know how difficult a situation they're about to enter when the water clears," he said. "I'd say 80 percent of this town is underwater at this point in time and we've got to prepare them for that."

The Neuse River crested in Goldsboro Thursday, and the Tar River could reach its highest point in the city of Greenville over the weekend. It could be a week or more before the water recedes.

Flooding has destroyed homes and roads across much of the region. On Friday, McCrory also visited the historic town of Princeville, among the first communities chartered by African-Americans after the Civil War. Mayor Bobbie Jones was visibly shaken as he talked about the goals for his town.

"To hurry up and to get folks back to their homes as soon as possible," he said. "We believe that things will get better. We know that things will get better."

Some Princeville families have become too familiar with historic floods. In 1999, Hurricane Floyd completely submerged the town. And a new levee was not enough to hold back the Tar River this time.

As of Thursday afternoon, Gov. McCrory said 55,000 customers remained without power, down from about 900,000 after the storm hit the state. He praised volunteers, National Guardsmen, State Troopers and local police for mobilizing to help people displaced by the storm.

Nearly 4,000 people have moved to emergency shelters

Thousands of residents of southeastern portions of the state are taking shelter in schools and churches, as rising rivers have forced evacuations in numerous communities. McCrory said that four of the six shelters in hard-hit Robeson County have permanent power, while the others rely on generators.

“We want to get these people out of shelters so they have more privacy, so they have more dignity, so they have better care, so they can be with their families and reunited also with their pets, if possible,” he said.

Flooded neighborhoods in Grifton near the Contentnea Creek on Thursday, October 13, 2016.
Credit Jay Price / WUNC

Some schools to remain closed until next week

Cumberland County Schools will be closed for the rest of the week as students wait for Hurricane Matthew's flood waters to recede. The Cape Fear River crested earlier this week at nearly 60 feet.

Officials says some students, families and teachers have lost homes in the floods, but Cumberland County Superintendent Frank Till said the district is aiming to reopen schools on Monday.

“Communities are most normal when school is back in session,” Till said. “Even when the flood waters are down, when you can get a child - even if they're in a situation where their life's not good - if you can get them back in school, you can begin the normalize it.”

FEMA assistance on its way

McCrory said he's asking FEMA for emergency funding to move families into hotels and temporary housing.

Residents of Greene, Harnett and Sampson counties affected by the storm may apply for federal disaster assistance. They're among the 34 counties approved to receive FEMA funding for public recovery projects, and McCrory said residents there are also among the 17 counties cleared for individual assistance for help with housing, food and other needs.

FEMA encourages survivors to register as soon as possible at disasterassistance.gov or by calling 800-621-3362.

A map of flooding in Kinston as of 8:15 a.m., Thursday, October 13, 2016. The Neuse River flows along the southern portion of the town.
Credit Lenoir County Emergency Services

Concerns over crop, livestock damage continue to mount

Officials are also worried that Hurricane Matthew and the subsequent floods have jeopardized crops in the state.

Peanuts, soybeans, and cotton are close to harvest, but are threatened by flooded farmland in eastern counties.

Most tobacco was harvested before the hurricane hit, but some of the product is in danger of rotting in barns because power outages have caused disruptions to the curing process.

N.C. Peanut Growers Association CEO Bob Sutter said last year was a down year for peanut farmers and another bad season could be "devastating."

Jerry Hamill owns LATROS Farms in Enfield, North Carolina. He told NPR's Here and Now the destruction at his farm is some of the worst his family has seen in Halifax County.

"We've had hurricanes, yes, and we'll have them again," Hamill said. "But to do this much damage from basically rainfall, it's just hard to... it's kind of hard to stomach, really."

Related: Peanut Farmers Feel Major Impact After Hurricane Matthew

The state Agriculture Department says it's too early to tell exactly how much the storm will cost North Carolina's farmers.

State Department of Agriculture spokesman Brian Long said as rivers continue to rise, livestock and poultry growers have also undoubtedly lost animals that need to be disposed of soon.

An aerial photograph of a CAFO, or concentrated animal feeding operation, taken on Monday, October 10, 2016 shows the facility surrounded by water.
Credit Rick Dove / Waterkeeper Alliance

“Once the waters do start to recede and access to farms becomes possible, then we're prepared to act quickly to address those issues,” said Long, adding he’s heard no reports of breaches at hog waste lagoons.

On Wednesday afternoon, the N.C. Department of Agriculture asked the ASPCA to deploy its disaster response team to help with animal rescue and sheltering in Lumberton.

Tim Rickey, vice president of the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Team, said Wednesday that local officials estimate hundreds of animals may be affected in Lumberton. Rickey said his organization will assist the department in sheltering displaced animals in the community and animal rescue requests.

Since last week, the ASPCA said it has assisted more than 1,000 animals through pre-evacuation, field rescue, transport and sheltering needs in Georgia and the Carolinas.

Hog waste lagoons also flooded, damage uncertain

The state Department of Environmental Quality says some hog waste lagoons have been flooded in the rising waters left behind by the storm. The agency said there are no reports of breaches in the lagoon walls, but the floods have spilled over them.

State Environment Secretary Donald van der Vaart said it's not yet clear how those problems have affected water quality.

“Frankly, at this point, we have not been able to go out and make some of our sampling that we typically do just simply because of the access that's been denied to us,” van der Vaart said. “A lot of roads are still out right now.”

A flooded street in Grifton, North Carolina on Thursday, October 13, 2016.
Credit Jay Price / WUNC

Cooling pond at power plant also breached

Duke Energy repair crews are working to fix a breach in a cooling pond at a natural gas plant in Goldsboro. The utility says the breach caused minimal impacts to the water level of the nearby Neuse River.

Spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said the plant's coal ash pond has been fortified this week, and there are no leaks.

“We're going to monitor it very, very closely,” Sheehan said. “It is performing in a very safe way right now and we certainly expect it would stay that way.”

But conservationist groups worry the earthen dam could lose its integrity over the next few days, according to Matthew Starr, the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper.

“The majority of that pond has not been inundated with the Neuse River, but until the river recedes, I don't think anyone knows how that dam is going to perform,” Starr said.

There are also three retired coal ash pits near the Goldsboro plant that have been flooded. Duke Energy says it expects a minimal impact because vegetation has grown over the pits.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.