FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – On Tuesday, rivers in and around this eastern North Carolina city surpassed an infamous milestone, with flooding that was officially worse than Hurricane Matthew two years ago.
That 2016 storm brought heavy rains and flash flooding that swept into buildings and led to at least more than two dozen statewide deaths. The 500-year flood was something many residents didn’t think they would see again, despite recent warnings of dangerous river rising days after the passage of Tropical Depression Florence.
Even after a mandatory evacuation order, Daniel Goins, 65, had decided to stay in the home his grandfather built in Spring Lake, northeast of Fayetteville. But Monday morning, as water began to pour into the house, he grabbed two bags of clothes and a television and fled in his truck.
“I told them I was going to stay. I didn’t believe it was going to get higher than Matthew.”
(Story continues below.)
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Little River surpasses Matthew
Matthew’s mark of 32 feet was officially passed Monday on the Little River, which runs through Spring Lake. By Tuesday, it had topped 35 feet with fast moving water that overtook a major intersection, spreading beyond its banks for about a half mile.
Of Cumberland County’s 81 water rescues, the majority had occurred at that site, which is just north of major Army installation Fort Bragg.
United States Geologic Survey hydrologists had replaced an old gauge knowing it wouldn’t be high enough to measure levels, but Tuesday they found even that gauge overwhelmed.
“This is well above anything we’ve recorded,” said James Stonecypher, a geological survey hydrologic technician based out of Raleigh.
The Little flows in the much larger Cape Fear, a waterway that has the attention of local and state officials because of its proximity to the major population centers of Fayetteville and Wilmington.
By late Tuesday morning, the Cape Fear had reached nearly 60 feet, 2 feet higher than Matthew.
Drone footage shot by MAJik Media NC captured flooding of the Cape Fear River right off Person Street in downtown Fayetteville, N.C. Monday afternoon.
Water is climbing
At Deep Creek Outfitters on the banks of the Cape Fear just east of downtown, employee Thomas Maldonado went into the store to find the basement almost flooded to its ceiling.
“I came down here this morning and stepped right in it,” Maldonado said. The waters had climbed several feet above a mark left in the basement showing the height of Mathew’s flooding.
Hydrologists say the Little River has crested, though said there’s a chance it could also go back up after heavy rains Monday night.
Unlike the Little, the Cape Fear by Tuesday morning had not reached its projected crest. During Matthew, it reached 58 feet in Fayetteville. This time it was expected to flood up to 62 feet. That height was originally anticipated Tuesday morning but was pushed back to 2 a.m. Wednesday.
A statement from a joint Cumberland County and Fayetteville emergency task force warned of a “strong potential” for flooding within a mile of the Cape Fear. High-speed, fast-moving water and debris would also likely cause bridge damage, possibly cutting off travel over the river.
The city and county had issued an evacuation order for everyone in one-mile zones around the Cape Fear and Little, affecting at least 2,800 households.
Those bearing the brunt of the record flooding found themselves in shock. Goins stood near the edge of floodwaters looking toward his Spring Lake home.
“I have no idea what I’m going to do. I don’t have insurance.”
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