TARBORO, N.C. — Skies cleared Sunday over much of North Carolina, but the danger posed by Hurricane Matthew was likely to remain through at least the end of the week, when rivers could top or come close to records set 16 years ago by Hurricane Floyd.
Eight people have died in Hurricane Matthew, and five are missing, Gov. Pat McCrory said. Evacuations had started in some towns and were being considered in others, he said. More than 770,000 remained without power.
“A day and a half ago, we warned that this was going to be like Hurricane Floyd,” McCrory said. “I was afraid that we were exaggerating. Now I’m having people from eastern North Carolina tell us that we may have underestimated this.”
A mandatory evacuation began Sunday in Princeville, the oldest town in the nation incorporated by freed slaves with an incorporation date of Feb. 20, 1885. The town was rebuilt after Floyd, which left 23 feet of water standing in 90 percent of the town when it hit in September 1999.
The Neuse River in Kinston is expected to peak Friday at 1 foot over its previous, and officials there are “preparing residents for the worst flooding that they have ever seen,” McCrory said.
The city has imposed a mandatory evacuation for all residents in the river basin; officials in Greenville, where near-record flooding is expected Friday also are considering an evacuation, he said.
Lamont and Sharon Taylor got within sight of their home in Princeville, but they were already blocked from returning home by the rising river late Sunday afternoon. They had spent the stormy hours of Saturday at her sister’s home in a Princeville neighborhood that’s on higher ground.
“Today they say everybody’s got to go,” Sharon Taylor said. Their car filled with their possessions, they were resigned to spending Sunday night in a shelter.
David Bullock, 55, lives in Tarboro, just across the Tar River from Princeville, less than half-mile from its banks. As he was leaving a nearby gas station with lottery tickets, his sister called to say police were knocking on the neighborhood’s doors to say they should evacuate.
Bullock said he rebuilt his home with low-interest government loans after Floyd; he’s not ready to go through that again.
“I had to gut the whole house, the floors and everything,” he said. “If I get flooded again, I can’t take it. I can’t go back and take the expense. If I get flooded again I’m going to say, it’s yours, I’m gone.”
Floyd, North Carolina’s worst natural disaster at that time, barreled ashore Sept. 16, 1999, at Oak Island and drenched eastern North Carolina with 20 inches of rain, causing epochal flooding, at least 51 deaths and a record $6 billion or more in damage.
In Greenville on Sunday, 21-year-old Christopher Perry was hauling everything but the towels on his bathroom racks into a trailer brought by the family of his neighbor, Morgan Harrell. Perry’s landlord had warned that after Hurricane Floyd, the water rose to inundate the apartments balanced on stilts 10 feet off the concrete driveway.
“It’s a lot easier to get it all out than come back later and have to buy it all again,” said Perry, a finance major at East Carolina University.
At Mount Sinai apartments in Fayetteville, Alisha Brooks said she lost everything when Matthew rolled through.
“I’m so upset. I don’t have nothing left” she said. “Nothing. I have to take all this and put it in the garbage. I just want somewhere else to go. This is ridiculous. I cannot live like this. I’m not staying here like this. I refuse to. I’m not doing this.”
Boats arrived about 10 p.m. to rescue residents.
“All us had to pitch in, pitch together and help people get out the apartments, get our stuff out and crawl through water all night long, she said. “Babies, all, children, all stuck in the water. This is a crisis for real. It really is. But I know God is able to do anything possible. God strengthens us. That’s who’s going to help us. I know somebody’s going to help us.”
McCrory said more than 1,000 rescues had occurred, with 700 of them in Cumberland County. They include a 63-year-old woman — identified as a nurse or nursing assistant at a long-term care facility in Wilson — who clung to a tree for three hours after her car was swept into a canal.
She had left work about 11:30 p.m., headed for her home in Wayne County, when her car was swept into the canal and she managed to get to the tree, said Gordon Deno, Wilson County’s director of emergency management. Her family called 911 when she didn’t get home, and rescuers went searching for her on a Humvee.
A boat joined them and rescued the woman, who was taken to the hospital because she was tired and suffering from hypothermia, he said.
The U.S. Coast Guard rescued at least 10 people: eight who were on rooftops in Pinetops on Sunday and two who were stranded Saturday night when their fishing vessel ran aground in Shallotte.
Officials with the state Department of Environmental Quality were onsite Sunday at two Duke Energy coal ash facilities in Robeson and Wayne counties to assess the impact of flooding from the storm.
Dare County was among the last areas of the state where Matthew hit before heading out to sea. Officials there told McCrory that 60 percent of the homes on Hatteras Island were flooded, and the county was closed to everyone except residents and first responders.
Donna Barnett, who lives in Hatteras village, said the water was a foot from coming in her house.
“My husband was born and raised here, his grandparents grew up here on this land, he said he’s never seen the water so high,” she said.
National writer Allen G. Breed in Fayetteville contributed to this story.
Waggoner reported from Raleigh. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc. Read more of her work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/martha-waggoner. Follow Emery P. Dalesio at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/emery-p-dalesio.