Sunday roads update: Most roads in southeastern NC impassable

Think twice before you attempt to drive on any road in southeastern North Carolina.

The storm surge and heavy rain from Hurricane Florence have made roads, streets and highways impassable in that part of the state. And on Saturday, the N.C. Department of Transportation advised that all roads south of U.S. 64 and east of Interstate 73/74 be avoided.

I-73/74 runs vertically from Asheboro to Richmond County, which borders South Carolina. U.S. 64 stretches from Raleigh past Nashville and Tarboro to Plymouth on the coast.

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Florence hovered over southeastern North Carolina and South Carolina overnight Saturday, dumping record amounts of rain. In many cases, flooding blocked motorists from some of North Carolina’s key thoroughfares.

To avoid I-95, DOT suggested “an extremely long detour” for southbound drivers: use I-64 West in Virginia to I-81 south, to I-75 south in Tennessee to I-16 East in Georgia back to I-95. DOT suggested the inverse route for northbound drivers.

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DOT’s update Saturday night came after it had previously announced road closings on U.S. 70 between Kinston and New Bern; U.S. 17 from New Bern south to the Jones County line; U.S. 421 near the USS North Carolina battleship in Wilmington and U.S. 264 in several areas, including downtown Washington, on both sides of Belhaven and west of Swan Quarter.

Road closures began Thursday near the coast, as the tidal surge overtopped low-lying roads. N.C. 12 is closed on Hatteras Island, and parts of U.S. 70 are shut down between Beaufort and Atlantic, as floodwaters covered the pavement in numerous places, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation.

Alice Cooley and her husband Calvin of Bridgeton, N.C.wait in line for gasoline at the River Bend Fuel Mart on Saturday, September 15, 2018 in River Bend, N.C. The Cooleys are without power and drove around Craven County looking for gasoline on Friday after Hurricane Florence caused widespread flooding and power outages. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Many roads and streets in Craven County are also flooded, including East Front Street in New Bern. The Trent River drawbridge is closed, and the ramp from southbound U.S. 17 on to Front Street has collapsed.

As the storm moved inland, heavy rain left standing water on roadways and caused creeks and rivers to rise. There are numerous roads blocked by floodwaters in Wayne County, including U.S. 70 in Goldsboro near North Herman Street.

The road closures began with N.C. 12 on the Outer Banks. NCDOT announced about 1 p.m. Thursday that N.C. 12 was closed south of Oregon Inlet, with water and sand covering the highway near Rodanthe and in Avon, Buxton and just north of Hatteras Village.

NCDOT said the highway will likely remain closed until after Florence moved on. Not only will the sand and debris need to be removed, but the pavement and bridges will need to be inspected and possibly repaired.

Drivers can check the status of state-maintained roads on an interactive map at tims.ncdot.gov/tims/. NCDOT warns that during a big storm there’s a lag time between when a road becomes impassable and when it gets marked as closed on the website.

State officials have continually warned people not to drive through water. Of the 26 people killed as a result of Hurricane Matthew two years ago, 17 were driving or were passengers in vehicles on flooded roads that were swept into deep water.

“Never drive on roads covered by water,” Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday evening. “It only takes a few inches to wash away a car.”

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling
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