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Oct. 12, 2016


A resident of Windsor, N.C., captured the extent of flooding from storm surge brought by Hurricane Matthew in a series of drone videos recorded on Oct. 9 and Oct. 10. (YouTube/Russell Jinnette)

LUMBERTON, N.C. — As North Carolina struggles with the deadly aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, forecasters Wednesday warned that rain-fed waters were still on the rise in some areas — with at least one river expected to crest this weekend at nearly double the flood stage.

The swollen Neuse River — cutting through coastal flatlands south of Greenville — underscores the flood threats facing parts of the state for the coming days even as rescue teams try to move people out of danger and utility crews work to restore power to nearly 200,000 customers.

The National Weather Service predicted that the Neuse was moving toward “dangerous flooding levels” of near 27.5 feet by early Saturday near the town of Kinston before starting to fall. The rise — already above the 14 foot flood stage in the area — could rival the spillover from destructive Hurricane Floyd 17 years ago.

“Numerous evacuations will be needed” in the area around Kinston, about 30 miles southwest of Greenville, the Weather Service bulletin said. Other sections of the Neuse River near Goldsboro were expected to crest Wednesday, as well as the Tar River at Tarboro to the north.

Nearly 25 deaths in the United States — including 18 in North Carolina — have been blamed on Matthew as it churned up the East Coast after killing hundreds in Haiti and battering Cuba and the Bahamas. One person remains missing in Johnston County, Gov. Pat McCrory (R)  said in a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

The flooding has dealt a direct blow to the poorest section of North Carolina, a tract of farmland and towns struggling after losing manufacturing jobs. More than 4,000 people have been forced from their homes into shelters at high schools and recreation centers, many lacking flood insurance, health insurance or stable employment.

In some hard-hit communities, like Lumberton, the flooding also cut along socioeconomic lines: A white area of town was preserved, while a lower-lying African American section now stands in several feet of water. But in other parts of the state, emergency officials say, a diverse group of people have been pushed from their homes.

“When a flood like this hits, the pain of it is exacerbated by the poverty,” said the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP. “What we’re talking about, particularly in eastern Carolina, are some of the poorest communities in the country — black and white, who already had economic challenges before something like this.”

At shelters Tuesday, people said they were uncertain how long they would be sleeping in bleachers and on gym floors.

“It’s a low feeling,” said Mae Campbell, 65, of Lumberton. “Embarrassing. Degrading.”

States of emergency remained in effect in nearly half of the state’s 100 counties, and 52 shelters housed more than 4,300 people, officials said. Another hazard on the horizon: chemicals and dead animals that could contaminate some water supplies.

In Robeson County, where Lumberton is the county seat, rescue workers were scrambling to reach more than 1,000 people, many of them in a neighborhood of small apartment complexes and public housing.

In addition to the drowning deaths, investigators probed a fatal shooting of a man in Lumberton involving a North Carolina Highway Patrol officer and two deputies during “the high-water situation,” McCrory said.

The shooting took place during swift-water search-and-rescue efforts in downtown Lumberton. Three law enforcement officers — two members of the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office and a highway patrol sergeant — were conducting search-and-rescues when they encountered the man shortly after 8 p.m. Monday.

They were traveling on a flooded part of West Fifth Street when they met the man, who then “became hostile towards the officers and displayed a handgun,” the highway patrol said in a statement Tuesday. “The shooting took place in swift water that was approximately three to four feet deep and resulted in a male succumbing to injuries,” according to a statement by the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation.

The North Carolina Highway Patrol on Tuesday afternoon identified J.F. Hinson, a 13-year veteran assigned to a patrol office in Robeson County, who has been placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation.

Authorities were still working to identify the next-of-kin for the man fatally shot by Hinson, the highway patrol said Tuesday. Once that is done, authorities will identify him.

“While we are saddened by any loss of life, I am thankful that our member and the Robeson County Sheriffs’ deputies were not injured,” Col. Bill Grey, commander of the highway patrol, said in a statement. The highway patrol asked the State Bureau of Investigation to investigate the shooting.

The unidentified man in Lumberton was at least the 746th person to be shot and killed by a police officer this year, according to a Washington Post database tracking such shootings.

In areas hit hard by Hurricane Matthew, entire neighborhoods were evacuated as officials also moved hospital patients and prison inmates from areas of possible flooding.

“But this could still get a lot worse,” said John Locklear, a local volunteer firefighter who was driving a military vehicles in Lumberton on Monday. “Each house is going to have to be searched. Just like New Orleans.”

Though the rain had subsided two days earlier, this community — like other inland areas across the state — was reckoning with the hurricane’s delayed blow, coming as rainfall rushed into larger bodies of water and overwhelmed levees and drainage systems.