09/06/06 — Heavy rain isn't helping flood conditions in Duplin

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Heavy rain isn't helping flood conditions in Duplin

By Staff and Wire
Published in News on September 6, 2006 1:52 PM

RALEIGH -- Thick thunderstorms prolonged flood conditions in eastern North Carolina on Tuesday night, and forecasters projected that the Northeast Cape Fear River could remain at major flood levels until the end of the week.

Some areas saw 6 inches of rain from the latest round of storms, which followed on the heels of Tropical Storm Ernesto.

"This is basically Ernesto over again," said Tom Matheson of the National Weather Service in Wilmington. "It's not a pretty forecast."

Computer models projected that the Northeast Cape Fear near Burgaw in Pender County would remain over 16 feet until Friday morning. It would not return below flood stage -- 10 feet -- until next week. The river flowed at just 2 feet last Thursday, before Ernesto squeezed up to a foot of rain over the region.

"There is the potential that homes that were close to flooding could actually flood now," said Eddie King, director of emergency management in Pender County.

Flooding in Duplin and Pender counties has already forced about 140 people from their homes, and many were unable to return Tuesday because of flooded roads and homes.

"Unfortunately our flooding levels are going up today. We're having some heavy rain storms, and we had some rain in the north that is draining down this way," Duplin County emergency manager Craig Forlines said. "Luckily, we already have the roads closed and the people evacuated, so there's not a lot to do at this point."

He was expecting some people from the Federal Emergency Management Agency this morning to assess the damage. If the money damage meets a certain threshold, Forlines said, FEMA will take the recommendation to the president to consider signing a declaration of a disaster zone. That designation allows certain money to come into the county for relief.

No new roads were flooded yet this morning, but those that were flooded earlier in the week still had sections under water. Those roads were N.C. 41, Deep Bottom, Durwood Evans and Norwood Blanchard.

"It's going up a little bit, and we're still compiling the levels," Forlines said.

Gov. Mike Easley sent teams to 13 counties along the coast to assess damage of the storm as sporadic rain fell across the region. In coastal Washington County, up to three inches of rain fell in three hours and a flash-flood warning was issued east of Rocky Mount when about two inches of rain fell in an hour, the National Weather Service reported.

Flood warnings were in effect for Burgaw, a Pender county town about 100 miles southeast of Raleigh, where 2 inches of rain was expected to fall through Wednesday. Water levels had risen to 16 1/2 feet Tuesday -- more than 6 feet above flood stage for the river -- and could rise several more inches by Thursday before slowly receding, according to the Weather Service.

Ernesto moved into North Carolina on Friday, on the heels of a cold front that brought rain to the central and western parts of the state. The weather patterns brought at least an inch of rain statewide, 2 to 4 inches in parts of western and central North Carolina, and between 8 and 12 inches of rain to the east, state climatologist Ryan Boyles said.

"Clearly, there's been substantial drought reduction across the state," Boyles said. "But you can still have drought even if there's flooding. The streams will spike with these heavy rains and then drop right back down."

"At the same time, for most communities that have reservoirs like the Triad and Charlotte, it can be very beneficial because they can catch it as it comes down."

About 50 roadways affected by the storm were still closed or partially blocked Tuesday but only about five were major routes, state Department of Transportation spokeswoman Lisa Crist Crawley said. Among them were N.C. 41, which was closed east of Trenton in Jones County and east of Wallace in Duplin County, and N.C. 53, closed in Pender County from Interstate 40 to N.C. 50.

"That can be a dangerous situation. Vehicles can hydroplane and it can cause accidents," Weather Service meteorologist Brandon Vincent said.