TARBORO, N.C. (AP) — As a wave of floodwater worked its way down North Carolina's swollen rivers, the governor pledged to help rebuild and protect one of the country's oldest towns chartered by African-Americans.
Gov. Pat McCrory took an aerial tour on Thursday of Princeville, after it was inundated by floodwaters for the second time in less than 20 years. This week's flooding was spawned by Hurricane Matthew. In 1999, it was Hurricane Floyd that caused problems.
The governor said National Guard troops have been sent to Princeville with high-water vehicles to ensure no one loots stores or homes.
"I want to let them know we will be with you, and we'll do everything we can to help you rebuild this city," McCrory said. "And also, steps need to be taken where this won't happen again in the future."
McCrory said the flooding — which he estimated at 10 feet deep in places — may be worse than Lumberton is experiencing farther south.
Upstream, flooding has begun to ease in multiple communities, allowing some to return to their homes. Yet for other cities, such as Kinston along the Neuse, the crest has yet to come — meaning days more of flooding.
Near the coast, Pender County Manager Randall Woodruff flew over the area and saw some homes with only rooftops visible above the water.
Wilmington, near where the Cape Fear River meets the coast, is bracing for flooding in its downtown this weekend.
Flooding triggered by Matthew — which killed more than 500 people in Haiti — has left at least 38 dead in the U.S.
McCrory said statewide power outages are dropping, down to about 44,000 from a peak of over 800,000. The state's death toll is 22.
Floyd roared ashore on Sept. 15, 1999, not long after another hurricane saturated the state. Two days later, the rising Tar River engulfed Princeville in water 20 feet deep near the town hall. Princeville's history as one of the country's first towns created by freed slaves in 1865 helped boost a rebuilding effort that included millions in federal funds.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, Princeville resident Lynn McLean said she's been staying in a motel and an outreach center in a nearby town with her children ages 15, 13, 12 and 9. They live in public housing near the Tar River.
"Well the thought of starting over and not knowing how or when things are going to change and be better for us is heartbreaking," the 45-year-old mother said. "I mean, we know people are going to help, but they can only help so much."
Saying she doesn't work and doesn't have insurance to cover flood losses, she doesn't know how she will replace furniture, clothing and other belongings they're expecting to lose: "I have no clue."