2 more Hurricane Matthew deaths reported in North Carolina

Flood waters cover Tick Bite Road and Saw Mill Road in the Grifton, Lenoir County community Thursday. Residents were evacuated by the National Guard.
Flood waters cover Tick Bite Road and Saw Mill Road in the Grifton, Lenoir County community Thursday. Residents were evacuated by the National Guard. AP

North Carolina’s Hurricane Matthew death toll rose yet again on Thursday to at least 22 people, Gov. Pat McCrory said.

A person drowned in Lenoir County in a vehicle that passed a barricade and met a washed out section of road, the governor said at a 4 p.m. news briefing.

A man in Robeson County died after falling into the hole of an uprooted tree, the governor said.

Another possible storm-related death was under investigation, McCrory said, without offering details.

Most of the hurricane-related deaths in the state have been drownings that occurred when people were trapped in vehicles and swept away. The toll could rise even more in coming days, as rivers in five more counties are expected to surpass record levels between Wednesday and Saturday.

Princeville is completely under water, the governor reported, praising the mayor and other officials for ensuring that every resident was safely evacuated. Princeville, on the Tar River in Edgecombe County, is the oldest town in the United States incorporated by African Americans .

McCrory flew over the town on Thursday and said some sections were 10 to 20 feet under water.

At 8 p.m. Thursday, power outages across the state were down to 29,349, according to the N.C. Department of Public Safety. Thirty-four school districts remain closed, and near as many county court systems have been temporarily paralyzed due to the flooding.

Multiple sections of Interstate 95 are shut down, and seven mile stretch of Interstate 40 is closed in the Newton Grove area, officials said.

Two thousand people have been rescued so far from the rising waters, including 50 rescued over night Wednesday in Robeson County.

North Carolina has averaged about three fatalities per day this week, officials said. Late Wednesday, the State Highway Patrol identified the man shot and killed by a Highway Patrol sergeant on Monday night as Dennis Hunt, 56, of Lumberton. Two members of the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office, accompanied by the sergeant, were conducting search and rescue operations in Lumberton when they encountered Hunt, who became hostile toward them and displayed a handgun.

McCrory said a major priority for the state now is to find homes for many of the people who are in shelter, some of which need both clothing and access to medications that they left behind as they fled rising waters. “That is a major challenge for people, and there is no easy solution,” McCrory said. “You can’t just snap your fingers and have a home.”

The National Weather Service reported 18.38 inches of rain in Elizabethtown in southeastern North Carolina, and 14 to 16 inches were dumped in other areas of the coastal Carolinas. The Sandhills region, which was still recovering from flooding rains a week earlier, was among the hardest hit areas of the state.

The top wind-speed recorded in southeastern North Carolina was 86 mph at St. James Plantation in Brunswick County.

The flood damage drew comparisons to Hurricane Floyd, which left $3 billion in damage, destroyed 7,000 homes and killed 52 people in 1999. The after-effects of Hurricane Matthew will be felt for the rest of the week, state officials warn, as Eastern North Carolina communities brace for downstream flooding.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak

Forty-two cats and kittens from the Beaufort County animal shelter were temporarily taken in by the Columbia shelter while Hurricane Matthew passed through and the region recovers.

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