Swelling rivers in Matthew’s wake leave at least 40 dead

Disaster | The situation still “dire” with flooded roads, closed schools, and empty grocery stores
by Samantha Gobba
Posted 10/14/16, 04:35 pm

At least 40 people have died in the eastern United States due to flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew. Rivers swelled to record levels this week, covering roads, washing away cars, and shutting down power grids

Eastern North Carolina received the brunt of the flooding with 22 reported deaths, but the storm also caused 12 deaths in Florida, three in Georgia, four in South Carolina, and two in Virginia.

First responders in North Carolina rescued thousands of people stranded by the flooding, and dozens of school districts shut down as roads and buildings took on water. The Raleigh News & Observer reported 80 percent of rural roads in Johnston County, where schools closed, were damaged.

Emergency responders are still unable to reach some areas in eastern North Carolina such as Greenville, Goldsboro, and Kinston, Samaritan’s Purse vice president of U.S. disaster relief Luther Harrison told me.

“The good news is several communities are starting to see the rivers recede,” Harrison said. “It will take the water several days to return below flood stage.”

Many locations in the state saw record river levels. City officials called for mandatory evacuation in some areas such as the Neuse River at Kinston, N.C., where the waters topped Hurricane Floyd’s record of just over 27 feet in 1999. The National Weather Service expects the water to rise to 29 feet today.

Residents of Lumberton, N.C., remain without city water after flooding disabled the water treatment plant. Despite large pumps provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that will help send water from the plant back into the Lumber River, the repair could take up to four weeks, Lumberton city councilman Burnis Wilkins wrote on Facebook.

“I could go on and on about this, and it saddens me to have to share this information, but there is no reason to delay this info as it gives you time to start looking for alternative resources,” he wrote.

The Lumber River at Lumberton crested at more than 20 feet early this week, 7 feet above “flood state.”

Gary LeBlanc, founder of Mercy Chefs, a charity that provides professional meals to disaster zones, told me the response from officials has been quick and organized.

“It caught them by surprise. It caught them after the hurricane had passed through,” he said. “We all had days or weeks to [prepare for] Matthew coming, and they thought it was past them, and then levies started breaking. This was not predicted or anticipated up here. They’ve really been incredible in their response.” 

Mercy Chefs staged itself at the emergency operation center serving Lumberton and has been dishing out meals to about 1,800 people a day, including members of Search and Rescue, the National Guard, local law enforcement, and county employees, he said. Between 400 and 600 meals leave in trays or to-go boxes to local churches for further distribution.

LeBlanc said the situation is dire, and he tried driving around the area on Thursday only to find roads he couldn’t cross.

 “You just can’t tell where the woods stop and the road starts. There’s just no way to traverse them safely,” he said. “That’s serious stuff. We turned around twice.” 

The number of meals needed drastically increased throughout the week as floodwaters rose or receded enough for people to return to their homes and find themselves without power to cook. Even when the power does come on, grocery stores can struggle to keep up with demand.

“We have reports of grocery stores’ shelves being bare because people are having to restock their food supplies,” Salvation Army’s Shelley Henderson told me.

Salvation Army operations in North and South Carolina served about 13,000 meals on Tuesday and projected they would serve 38,000 meals by Friday.

Despite a gloomy outlook for many, Henderson said stories of Southern hospitality are surfacing.

On Friday, a Salvation Army officer was at a Goldsboro, N.C., Sam’s Club to purchase a birthday cake for a little girl staying at a shelter. When store employees heard the story, they purchased a cake and several presents for the officer to take back.

“There are so many stories of human kindness that are coming out of this,” Henderson said. “It’s just overwhelming and it’s invigorating, and it keeps our people on the ground going when they are tired and when they are ready to go home for the day. These stories of human kindness and goodness in people [are] amazing.”


Samantha Gobba

Samantha reports on the pro-life movement for WORLD Digital.

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