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Tropical Storm Florence: Crumbling Levee Threatens North Carolina Homes


Florence is no longer a hurricane, but it's still causing chaos in the Carolinas. There are widespread power outages, major highways are closed and many thousands of people are being housed in temporary shelters. Florence continues to dump heavy rainfall on parts of North and South Carolina that are already saturated. NPR's Brian Mann is with us from downtown Lumberton, N.C., along the Lumber River. That's one of the many rivers still rising above flood stage.

Brian, thanks so much for joining us.


MARTIN: Could you just tell us first of all what it's like there in Lumberton?

MANN: Well, it's pretty tense. I mean, at this point, the water has nowhere to go except into neighborhoods, into people's homes. The river's rising. I spoke this afternoon with Wayne Horne. He's the city manager here in Lumberton. His own home is underwater, and now he says a key levee along the river is crumbling.

WAYNE HORNE: We had to put temporary sandbags. We brought in fill material. We built a temporary dock. That dock has held up 'til today. We don't know how much of a breach it is, but we've got water coming through there right now.

MANN: And he says, Michel, that hundreds of additional homes are now threatened by this - up to 700 homes. And the city has forced a lot of families to evacuate.

MARTIN: And it may be hard to gauge this, but how would you describe the mood there?

MANN: Well, I think people are weary, and they're frustrated. They say they never saw flooding like this before - not for half a century. But with hurricane Matthew just a couple of years ago and Florence now, this is a double blow. I talked with Brandi Jacobs (ph) a little while ago. She was still in her home but was packing as the water rises.

BRANDI JACOBS: It was worse than what Matthew was.

MANN: You're going to try to stay?

JACOBS: We are. We're going to try and stay. We have a car that's packed with clothes and necessities. That way, we can just jump in the car and leave if we have to leave. So - but we're going to try and stay.

MANN: And what I hear from a lot of families is that they just don't have the money or the resources, you know, to go out on the road even with help that's here from the government and nonprofit groups.

MARTIN: And, Brian, what can you tell us about what's happening in the rest of North Carolina today?

MANN: Well, for one thing, there's just a lot of rain. It's been dramatic driving through and seeing just the deluges of rain that keep coming down. The storm is moving westward and north. About 700,000 people are without power still. And the Lumber River here is not unique. There are a half dozen rivers that are at risk of overflowing, or they're above flood stage right now across the state. So this is still very much a crisis. The governor here is saying this is a very dangerous stage of the storm.

MARTIN: Brian, I think we have time to squeeze in one more question. So what can you tell us about what we might expect tomorrow and the rest of the week?

MANN: Yeah. Well, what they're talking about unfortunately is more rain. You know, up through midweek, there could be these continued hits of these downpours that come in. It's not the wind anymore. It's just the rain, and that means a lot of the roads are cut off. I spoke to one guy who runs a grocery here, a key grocery in Lumberton. He says, you know, we're running out of food here. And so this gets harder day by day as these rivers continue to rise and just as more of this water keeps coming down.

And I think, you know, what I am hearing from emergency crews and from people in their homes, on the streets, is that they're weary of this. And they think this is going to change communities. They think that many of these neighborhoods are going to have to be permanently evacuated. So once the cleanup begins, there's going to be a big reassessment of what these two hurricanes, Matthew and now Florence, are going to mean for this part of North Carolina.

MARTIN: That's North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann in Lumberton, N.C.

Brian, thank you so much.

MANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann