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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 local paper 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, floodwaters 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 across eastern North Carolina in the wake of Hurricane Floyd.

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.″

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.

A team today was expected to begin identifying bodies in some 130 caskets found floating in floodwaters since the Sept. 17 storm.

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 on Sunday, authorities continued searching for 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.

An odd assortment of items hung from tree branches: a red toy airplane, a pair of rubber boots, a bag full of tin cans. Cars were piled atop each other at S&J Auto Sales, and murky brown water lapped at the pumps at a gas station.

Yet some houses, with wreaths hanging on front doors and cars parked under carports, appeared untouched by disaster except for a muddy line on the roof where the water had risen.

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.″

While floodwaters continue to recede, many rivers remain above flood stage. Parts of eastern North Carolina also were expected to see some showers and thunderstorms today, though only about a half-inch of rain was forecast.

In nearby Pitt County, some people were being allowed to return to their homes to inspect them and collect belongings for the first time since floodwaters 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.

In Greenville, where the Tar River was nearly 12 feet above flood stage and parts of the town remain underwater, homes with a large orange ``X″ denoted a completed inspection. A box around the ``X″ signified condemnation.

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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