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Tuesday roads update: 1,100 roads are still closed, including two interstates

I-40 looks more like a river than a highway north of Wilmington

Interstate 40 near mile marker 387 in Pender County, N.C. is flooded as a result of Hurricane Florence, blocking one of the major routes in and out of southeastern NC . NC DOT posted this drone video Monday, Sept. 17, 2018.
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Interstate 40 near mile marker 387 in Pender County, N.C. is flooded as a result of Hurricane Florence, blocking one of the major routes in and out of southeastern NC . NC DOT posted this drone video Monday, Sept. 17, 2018.

If you’re thinking it’s time to return to the southeastern coast of North Carolina or perhaps drive down to check on your property there, state officials urge you to wait a little longer.

The sun has returned to Eastern North Carolina, but the flooding continues, particularly along rivers in the coastal plain that are still rising. Many roads made impassable by the storm are still closed, including major highways to and from the coast.

“Roads are still dangerous,” Gov. Roy Cooper said during his noon briefing Tuesday. “And new road closings are still happening.”

As of Tuesday, 255 primary roads were closed in North Carolina, down from 356 on Monday, said Secretary of Transportation Jim Trogdon. Add in secondary roads, and more than 1,100 are closed.

The conditions are particularly bad in the southeast corner of the state, in a triangle between Lumberton, Wilmington and Jacksonville. Both Cooper and Trogdon asked that people not try to get to Pender, New Hanover and Brunswick counties. There are driving routes into Wilmington, but state officials are not disclosing them, because they don’t want the public using them.

“Routes we have only support first responders,” Trogdon said. “They are not safe routes. They have risks of their own.”

See images of Hurricane Florence's devastation from the air as photojournalist Casey Toth flies along with a National Guard relief mission to Trenton, NC on Monday, Sept. 17, 2018.

Headed to work this week? Here are some digital tips to plan your route.

Among the roads still closed late Tuesday morning:

Interstate 40 is closed from Exit 385 near Wallace to the New Hanover County line because of flooding.

Southbound Interstate 95 is closed from I-40 in Johnston County south to Exit 65 at N.C. 82 near Godwin, while northbound is closed from Exit 65 to Exit 73 at Dunn. I-95 is also closed between exits 19 and 22 in Lumberton because of flooding. The recommended detour for southbound traffic is to take I-40 west all the way to Hickory, and get on U.S. 321 south until it meets I-85 in Gastonia. NCDOT has put up barriers on southbound I-95 at U.S. 64 in Rocky Mount to enforce the detour there; local traffic headed to Wilson or Johnston County must take 64 one way or the other and find alternative routes to their destinations.

U.S. 301, which parallels I-95, is closed in several places in Cumberland and Robeson counties.

U.S. 74 is closed from I-95 east into Columbus County and then again in several places after its merger with U.S. 76 through Columbus and Brunswick counties to Wilmington.

Several sections of U.S. 17 that had been closed in Brunswick County reopened Wednesday morning, but dozens of other roads in the county remain impassable.

State highways through Bladen, Duplin, Pender and Jones counties are closed in several locations, including N.C. 41, N.C.50, N.C. 53, N.C. 58, N.C. 210 and N.C. 242.

Service on the state ferry between the Swan Quarter and Ocracoke expands Tuesday to include nonresident property owners; visitors will be allowed to return to Ocracoke starting Friday. Meanwhile, the Pamlico River and Neuse River ferries are making test runs on Tuesday, in hopes of opening later this week, said NCDOT spokesman Jamie Kritzer.

“The Coast Guard requires us to make sure that the channel is clear and that it hasn’t changed remarkably and that we can safely navigate the route,” Kritzer said.

Three good samaritans rescue a couple in danger of drowning after trying to ford the Little River, swollen by rains from Hurricane Florence, on Monday, Sept. 17, 2018.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Interstate 40 at Pender County <a href="https://t.co/d8XYXCZRsE">pic.twitter.com/d8XYXCZRsE</a></p>&mdash; MG(R) Jim Trogdon PE (@NCDOT_Trogdon) <a href="https://twitter.com/NCDOT_Trogdon/status/1041763936427814914?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 17, 2018</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

And if you think you can pick your way through back roads to get to the coast, hundreds of those are closed because of flooding as well.

“I urge you, if you don’t have to drive, stay off the road, particularly south of U.S. 64,” Cooper said.

Road conditions have improved in the northern coastal plain, which was hit less hard by the storm. N.C. 12 has reopened on Hatteras Island, as has U.S. 264 in Pamlico and Hyde counties. But with the Neuse River still rising, additional road closures are still possible around Goldsboro and Kinston.

As the water recedes, NCDOT will still need time to inspect the roads to make sure they are safe before reopening them, said NCDOT spokesman Steve Abbott.

“We understand that many people are anxious to return home or visit property they have down east,” Abbott said in an email. “However, road conditions are still constantly changing as rivers and creeks rise, and more trees and power lines go down. .... For that reason we are still asking people to stay off the roads in the heavily impacted areas for their safety, and to allow first responders, power crews, DOT crews and others involved in recovery to get to those areas to make sure they are indeed safe.”

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.

“If you must drive, don’t drive on flooded roads,” Cooper said again Monday. “Just a few inches of water can sweep your car away. And again, don’t drive ‘round barricades.”

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling

A Coast Guard aircrew from Air Station Elizabeth City, NC, rescues a man and his dog 'lucky' off a rooftop after Hurricane Florence, north of the Cape Fear River Monday, Sept. 17, 2018.

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