As the water rises, hundreds rescued from New Bern and Beaufort County

Hundreds of people were rescued from rising floodwaters in Eastern North Carolina through Friday.

In Craven County, emergency crews reported rescuing multiple residents from Hurricane Florence floodwaters through Friday afternoon, despite a mandatory evacuation.

The county has responded to nearly 200 calls for water rescues since the severe flooding started with those calls representing 488 people who need help, Assistant County Manager Gene Hodges said Friday afternoon. The water rescues are continuing, he said.

“It’s still dumping water right now,” Hodges said.

There’s no telling now how long the emergency will last, he said, and the county is hoping that the state and federal government will bring helicopters to help with the rescues.

There have been no fatalities, he said.

About 40 miles north, water rescues in Beaufort County and its capital, Washington, started late Thursday night and hit a peak after midnight, said County Manager Brian Alligood.

About 300 people had been rescued from flood waters by Friday afternoon, he said.

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Storm surge was the main contributor to the flooding, Alligood said. The Pamlico River cuts through the county.

“We have pretty high winds pushing water in,” Alligood said.

Local volunteer departments, state agencies, the National Guard and FEMA all contributed to the water rescues, he said. Alligood hoped the worst was over.

“It has slowed,” he said. “We have started to see the water recede. The winds are starting to fall.”

Craven County has five swift-water rescue teams and is using boats and vehicles that can motor through high water. The Cajun Navy, Louisiana volunteers, are helping, Hodges said.

New Bern, which sits at the intersection of the Neuse and Trent rivers, has been placed under a 24-hour curfew until further notice, city spokeswoman Colleen Roberts said in an interview just before 7 a.m. The city is not turning away anyone who offers help, she said.

Individuals and groups who want to help should meet at the New Bern Fire Department, located at 1401 Neuse Blvd., Roberts said.

The city said on its website Friday afternoon that preliminary estimates show at least 4,325 homes and 300 businesses are damaged and railroad tracks have been washed away.

The rescues began around 4 p.m. Thursday, Craven County spokeswoman Amber Parker said.

Parker said emergency crews were doing their best to reach areas that were “just too dangerous” because of extreme flooding, storm surges, and winds of 40 mph to 50 mph.

Most of the swift-water rescues were being made in areas along the Neuse River, including portions of New Bern, Fairfield Harbour, Adams Creek and Township 7, Parker said.

Local officials were seeing at least 8 inches of water across Adams Creek Road by 11 a.m. Thursday, Parker said. Water levels by early Friday morning already had exceeded what the area got from Hurricane Irene in 2011, she said. The National Hurricane Center was reporting over 10 feet of inundation in New Bern.

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Parker said the water in places had topped mailboxes and filled the first and second floors of homes in low-lying places.

“This storm has been hovering over us for a while, and we expect it to continue to hover over us,” she said. “Lots of water, lots of wind, lots of storm surge.”

Residents reached out for help through the night by phone and on social media.

Tom Ballance, who lives about 250 feet uphill from the Neuse River, told The Weather Channel in a 5:30 a.m. phone interview that he was able to get to the second floor of his house “so I’m not gonna die.”

The water came up quick, Ballance said. He’s lived in New Bern since 2003 and has stayed put in every hurricane, he said. His neighbors also stayed, he said.

“Nobody was expecting this, nobody,” Ballance told The Weather Channel. “We were fools.”

Even as a little boy, when Hurricane Hazel hit in 1954, it was not that bad, he said.

“I have a business on Middle Street and in all the years, nothing’s ever flooded Middle Street,” Ballance said. “That’s the one street. And even though I haven’t made it downtown I’ve been listening to the police radio and it sounds like Middle Street’s underwater. So it’s a double whammy here.”

Parker noted that 839 people had sought to stay at one of five inland shelters in Craven County. Just more than a hundred people had been evacuated to a shelter in Sanford, and others were directed to a mega-shelter at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, she said.

“The most important thing we need right now is for people to shelter in place and stay off the roads, to watch out for dangerous conditions, including downed power lines, and flooding water,” she said. “If water gets into people’s homes, we need them to call our emergency management line at 252-636-6608.”

A map sent out by the city of New Bern showed just how widespread the flooding had become. The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Ferry Division reported a 10-foot high storm surge above the normal water level at the Cherry Branch Ferry Terminal in Havelock, which is located in Craven County.

“Interactive map showing the high water areas in New Bern so far. Unfortunately this will get worse,” the city’s account tweeted around 9 p.m.

The map showed the Trent River had overflowed as well. The Neuse flows into the Pamlico Sound, which is separated from the Atlantic by the Outer Banks.

The city said more than 17,000 customers were without power Thursday night. WCTI, New Bern’s ABC affiliate, was forced to evacuate its building Thursday night, a development it noted while giving updates on the weather.

Outlaw said the winds had reached 50 mph to 60 mph as rescue crews attempted to retrieve people stranded in their houses, on rooftops and in cars.

They will begin to assess the damage once the storm subsides, he said.

“We’re not going to be satisfied until the last resident is rescued and in a shelter, and then we can assess damages and go from there,” Outlaw said. “We’re a resilient community, we work well together, we’ll get through this.”

Staff writer Brian Murphy contributed to this story.
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Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926; @TammyGrubb
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