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Record-breaking flooding hits North Carolina, officials fear worst natural disaster

Tuesday, October 11, 2016 7:52
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(Before It's News)

Record river flooding continues in eastern North Carolina after heavy weekend rain produced by now-dissipated Hurricane “Matthew” fell on already saturated soil.

As of early October 11, Matthew’s US death toll has climbed to at least 23, with nearly half of the casualties in North Carolina.

North Carolina officials warn that life-threatening flooding from swollen rivers will continue for days and fear a repeat of Hurricane “Floyd” of 1999, one of the state’s worst natural disasters.

North Carolina received as much as 466.8 mm (18.38 inches) of rain from Hurricane “Matthew” over the weekend. It produced over 203 mm (8 inches) of rainfall in 6 hours of early October 8 over portions of east North Carolina and totaled over 355.6 mm (14 inches). Hourly rainfall estimates were as high as 178 mm (7 inches).

466.8 (18.38 inches) was recorded in Elizabethtown, William O Huske Lock 3 measured 387.5 mm (15.65 inches) and Fayetteville 376.4 mm (14.82 inches).

But North Carolina was already soaked when Matthew formed, with several dams at critically high levels. Over 228 mm (9 inches) of flooding rain fell in eastern parts of the country on September 29, 2016, washing away roads and causing numerous water rescues. The hardest hit was the city of Fayetteville in Cumberland County where 25 water rescues were performed. 

This extra rain brought by Matthew caused widespread flash flooding and record river flooding. 

Towns across the state have been deluged, roads paralyzed and left without power, leaving some communities stranded. 

At least 11 people have died in the state and with major flooding events still in progress authorities fear the number will rise.

Video courtesy The Washington Post

State of emergency declared

President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in North Carolina on Monday, October 10, making federal funding available to affected individuals in 10 counties hit by the storm.

“This storm is not over in North Carolina,” Governor Pat McCrory said. “It’s going to be a long, tough journey.”

Some 2 000 residents were stuck in their homes and on rooftops in Lumberton, off the Lumber River, after the city suddenly flooded on Monday morning, McCrory said. Rescue workers were scrambling to reach more than 1 000 people.

On Tuesday, October 11, residents in low-lying areas southwest of Raleigh were urged to seek higher ground amid warnings of flash floods and fears that a major dam could rupture.

A mandatory evacuation was also issued for residents and businesses along the Neuse River. Areas further downstream such as Kinston are expected to see levels peak around October 15.

Officials in North Carolina fear a repeat of Hurricane Floyd, one of the state’s worst natural disasters.

That storm caused 57 deaths — 35 of them in North Carolina, most of them from inland drowning in the days after rain subsided.

Floyd also caused an estimated $6 billion in damages, leaving thousands without homes and keeping communities underwater for days and weeks.

In some cases, the flooding rivals that of Floyd.

Hurricane Matthew near Florida, US on October 7, 2016

Hurricane “Matthew” near Florida, US on October 7, 2016. Credit: NASA/NOAA/DoD Suomi NPP/VIIRS

Record river flooding

As of 12:00 UTC on October 11, 2016, there are 55 gauges in different flood stages across the Carolinas and Virginia, most of them in eastern North Carolina. 15 of them are showing major flooding, 12 of which in North Carolina and 3 in South Carolina.

Flooding gauges North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia - 12:00 UTC on October 11, 2016

North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia gauges at 12:00 UTC on October 11, 2016. Credit: NOAA/USGS

So far, at least four river gauge locations have seen record flooding.

Lower Little River at Manchester broke old record set on September 19, 1945, by more than 0.76 m (2.5 feet). The river peaked on October 10 at 9.67 m (31.73 feet) and is expected to drop below flood stage (5.48 m / 18 feet) late this week.

Neuse River at Smithfield exceeded record crest by over 0.45 m (1.5 feet) on October 10 at 8.86 m (29.09 feet) and is expected to drop below flood stage (4.57 m / 15 feet) this week.

Lumber River at Lumberton exceeded record crest by nearly 1.21 m (4 feet) on October 9 breaking the record set in 2004 by Hurricane “Francis.” The river is forecast to remain in record flood stage through the rest of the week.

Lumber River at Lumberton West 5th Street crushed previous record crest by 1.18 m (3.9 feet). It peaked on October 9 at 7.43 m (24.39 feet), beating the previous record crest of 6.24 m (20.5 feet).

Over the next few days, major flooding is expected in central and eastern towns along the Lumber, Cape Fear, Neuse and Tar rivers.

Spencer Rogers, a coastal construction and erosion specialist with North Carolina State University’s Sea Grant program, said the flooding in North Carolina is driven by the dynamics of the state’s river systems as they run through the coastal plain. “The ocean can receive a lot of water,” he said.

“It’s the river areas where the confined river basin backs up the water and it just can’t flow out fast enough.”

Featured image: Flooding in Nags Head, North Carolina on October 9, 2016. Credit: Mike Morgan (via Twitter)

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