Thursday, September 30, 2010

East NC: Water knee-deep on some roads, but no return of Floyd

I was in Greenville, N.C., in 1999 when Hurricane Dennis, and then Hurricane Floyd, dropped massive amounts of rainfall on the eastern part of the state, causing a 500 year flood.

It wasn't the storm that killed so many people back then, it was the runoff. The Tar River just kept rising until thousands of buildings were under it. It was something to behold, weeks later, when the water fully receded. I'd walk a street, look at the brown lines above my head and think "That's where the water stopped."

So when I read about the current rains in eastern North Carolina approaching, and even topping, the rainfall from Floyd, I pay attention.

But it does not seem we are heading for anything approaching a Floyd-like event. I spoke this morning to the town manager in Princeville, which was completely destroyed by floodwaters in the aftermath of Floyd. He said he's not been contacted by state emergency managers, and doesn't expect serious problems.

North Carolina EMA spokeswoman Julia Jarema said the worst of the state's problems are in Wilmington and New Hanover County, which are on the state's southeastern coast. Jeff Orrock, with the National Weather Service, confirmed that.

The rain there is expected to continue, for the most part, through the night, Orrock said. The water is at knee level on "a lot of the roads," he said, and it will likely be this weekend before the waters recede to "major recovery."

But Floyd-level flooding won't be seen, Orrock said. Back then the state's rivers were already at flood stage when Floyd hit, taking them to "crazy levels." That was not the case this week, despite enough rain the last few days to break some of Floyd's records, particularly in New Hanover County.

3 p.m. Update: The Wilmington Star News has pictures up showing at least 5 feet of water in places thought ought not have any. The paper reports 21 inches of rain fallen and the need to pump sewage.

Much of that is likely due to ongoing flash flooding of a sort, since the Cape Fear River has not crested, based on this hydrograph from the National Weather Service.

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