Rescuers again retrieving people from floods after Matthew
LUMBERTON, N.C. (AP) — Volunteer firefighters drove their military-surplus truck with 4-foot tires into dark flood waters, after torrents from Hurricane Matthew sent the Lumber River overflowing its banks on North Carolina’s coastal plain.
Cruising past a mortuary, grocery and homes in a flooded area of in Lumberton, they joined U.S. Marshals and water rescue teams from as far away as New York and New Jersey on Monday. They were focused on rescuing about 1,500 people who were trapped when the river unexpectedly rushed out of its banks, up their stairways and into buildings.
The rescue teams were expected to be back at work across eastern North Carolina on Tuesday as the deluge rolled downstream toward the Atlantic Ocean. At least three rivers were forecast to reach record levels, some not cresting until Friday.
The half-dozen men from the nearby town of Rayham spent about 10 hours Monday aboard their truck — usually used for fighting brush fires in this swampy, rural southeast corner of North Carolina. They ferried to safety the people in inflated dinghies or bass boats who met the truck on the neighborhood’s main street.
“We’ve got it nowhere near this bad,” said Jimmy Hunt Jr., son of the chief of the volunteer fire department in Rayham.
Hurricane Matthew killed more than 500 people in Haiti and at least 23 in the U.S. — nearly half of them in North Carolina. At least three people were missing.
In addition to the 14 storm-related deaths in North Carolina, there were five in Florida and three each in Georgia and South Carolina. One death was reported in Virginia.
Also in Lumberton, authorities said a man was fatally shot by state trooper in confrontation amid flood waters in hard-hit Lumberton.
The full extent of the disaster in North Carolina was still unclear, but it appeared that thousands of homes were damaged, and more were in danger of flooding.
Robert Barnhill, 83, and his wife Katie, 81, left everything inside their Lumberton home but their medications, a couple of blankets and a pillow.
“The water’s up to the porch now, so it’s got one more step to go” before entering their home of 35 years, Robert Barnhill said after being rescued Monday afternoon. “I’ve never seen a flood like this before.”
Rescuers still had not made it to all the submerged cars or figured out exactly how many people are missing or dead, county Emergency Management Director Stephanie Chavis said.
“I’ve been here right at 28 years,” Chavis said. “This seems to be the worst one we’ve had in my career.”