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Days After Hurricane Florence Made Landfall, Flooding Remains A Large Threat In N.C.


Days after Hurricane Florence made landfall, the situation keeps getting worse as massive amounts of water dropped by the storm make their way through North Carolina's rivers and other waterways. Thousands of people remain displaced from their homes, and travel is difficult across much of the state. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen today re-emphasized the continuing threat.


KIRSTJEN NIELSEN: Please, everyone, this continues to be very dangerous. So please listen to your local officials. Please stay put. Do not return home until you are told to do so by local officials. Do not get in the water. The water can seem very safe. It is not.

CORNISH: NPR's Sarah McCammon is in Fayetteville, N.C., and joins us now. Sarah, what's happening where you are?

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Well, there's been some rain off and on the past couple of days. But really the big issue here in central North Carolina is river flooding. Basically all of that water that Florence brought had to go somewhere. The ground is saturated. Lots of streams and rivers are full. And today it's been deceptively sunny for much of the day with some blue skies even. But the water is rising. And here's some of what I saw today.

There are two rivers here in the Fayetteville area that are dangerously high. Earlier today, we met David Darden, whose elderly mother lives near one of them. Darden was racing against time as the Lower Little River was steadily rising.

DAVID DARDEN: Luckily at this point in time water's is not in the house. But it's all around the house. And depends on what the day brings as far as weather tonight and tomorrow.

MCCAMMON: Darden's mother is 84 and frail. Her husband died two years ago. She was sitting in Darden's truck while he and his wife were wading through water up to their knees, carrying out sentimental items like photo albums. Darden said he was getting ready to take his mom inside to pick up a few things she wanted to get herself.

DARDEN: I got a friend to come, and we're just going to probably either pick her up - she don't weigh about 98 pound. And we'll pick her up and carry her. If not, she'll just - we'll walk her in, and we'll go from there.

MCCAMMON: Darden says they've had heavy rain here before, but they've never seen the river come up this high. That's a worry for Amy Cannon, the Cumberland County manager. She says the area was hit hard by Hurricane Matthew two years ago, but the projections for the flood waters still pouring in from Florence are worse.

AMY CANNON: We're not a coastal community. We're not accustomed to flooding. And my biggest concern today is the rain has stopped, the sun's going to come out, and I think people are going to get a sense that the event's over. We've already had some people say, can I go back home? We really need to get the message out. The worst is yet to come.

MCCAMMON: About 1,500 people have evacuated from their homes here. But Cannon says she's worried about people who may be in danger as the Cape Fear River crests tomorrow. In Fayetteville earlier today, Preston Harris was watching the river rise. He's lived here all his life and says he's also wondering what tomorrow will bring.

PRESTON HARRIS: They don't realize there are so many creeks that run into the Cape Fear. And this here's the main stream to the ocean. So all the water's coming here from up ways. And as it comes in, this river's coming up.

MCCAMMON: Harris and some friends have lined up fishing boats and other supplies along the riverbank, ready to help their neighbors as the waters rise.

HARRIS: You know, we've been here for years, many years. And we're all local boys. And we know this river up and down better than about anybody else. So that's kind of why we're here, just 'cause we can get in some places and know how to get in and out where some other volunteers can't 'cause that's a dangerous river.

CORNISH: Sarah, I want to talk more about this. I understand local emergency managers and volunteers are obviously trying to respond to the flooding and get people to safety. What's expected to happen tomorrow?

MCCAMMON: So that Cape Fear River is supposed to crest sometime before midday tomorrow. And according to predictions, close to, like, a thousand structures could be in danger. And again, this is an inland area. And it's seeing historic amounts of water at a time when so much of this state is just starting to dig out from Hurricane Florence.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon reporting from Fayetteville, N.C. Thank you.

MCCAMMON: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.