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N.C. Flood Waters Finally Receding

September 27, 1999

PRINCEVILLE, N.C. (AP) _ From a newspaper box coated with mud, the headline on the front page of the Sept. 15 edition of The Daily Southerner presaged what was to come: ``Edgecombe hunkers down for Floyd hit.″

This town founded by ex-slaves prepared as best it could. But sandbags piled along an earthen dam did nothing to stop the swollen Tar River from spilling its banks, swallowing Princeville under 23 feet of water.

After 10 days, the water finally receded enough Sunday to allow a small group of reporters to tour part of the town that has come to epitomize the devastating flooding that Hurricane Floyd caused in eastern North Carolina.

Many of Princeville’s 1,800 residents, who have been homeless since Sept. 17, were anxious to survey the damage for themselves.

``I just want to go back in,″ said 16-year-old Dazzala Knight, standing outside one of Edgecombe County’s 10 shelters. ``My artwork is in there, and it’s probably ruined.″

More showers and thunderstorms spread across the eastern half of the state today; up to an inch fell in some areas but less fell on areas where rivers remain above flood stage.

North Carolina’s tobacco market in Wilson, about 50 miles east of Raleigh, reopened for farmers and buyers today for the first time since Hurricane Floyd struck. Doug Lewis of Edgecombe County said he lost everything to Floyd except his tobacco and peanuts. ``If I don’t salvage my peanuts, I’m looking at a $200,000 to $250,000 loss,″ Lewis said.

Preliminary estimates show Hurricane Floyd caused $70.2 million in housing damage in eastern North Carolina, with more than 3,000 homes destroyed or seriously damaged. The storm is being blamed for 47 deaths.

More than 35,000 state residents have registered for state and federal assistance. The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it has approved more than $2 million to aid hurricane victims.

Across the region, about 2,100 people remain in 21 shelters, their homes either inundated with water or simply unsafe. While some have been allowed to move into camping trailers, those in shelters for well over a week are getting edgy.

``A lot of people say they wish they were dead,″ said Robert Moody, among the shelter residents. Musicians and other entertainers planned performances today to cheer up shelter residents.

In Princeville, authorities searched for more victims as some neighborhoods remained under at least 4 feet of water, which had moved some houses and mobile homes to the middle of the street. Residents won’t be allowed back until the town is deemed safe.

At the end of the Civil War in 1865, newly freed slaves created the community then called Freedom Hill or Liberty Hill on the south side of the Tar River. By the time it was chartered in 1885, the town was known as Princeville, after Turner Prince, a carpenter who was one of its early leaders.

Diane LeFiles, a spokeswoman for the Edgecombe sheriff’s office and county school system, walked through the streets Sunday for the first time since the flood. She paused on the sidewalk of Princeville Montessori School, which was being renovated, and pointed to what appeared to be a pond.

``There used to be a ball field right there,″ she said, tears rolling down her cheeks. ``That’s where the kids played.″

In nearby Pitt County, some people were allowed to return to their homes to inspect them and collect belongings for the first time since flooding forced them out more than a week ago. Elsewhere, inspection teams were going door-to-door to make sure homes were safe. Some carried body bags as a precaution.

At least one person has been accused of trying to take advantage of the misery left by Floyd.

Brian Scott L’Hommedieu, 33, was arrested Friday after he allegedly tried to charge $2,980 to clean flood-damaged carpets. The work should have cost about $650, said Ted Carlton of the state Alcohol Law Enforcement.

The carpets belong to the Topsail Beach Police Department.

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