Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Weather

'I cry and pray': Keeping vigil amid North Carolina floods

GREENVILLE, N.C. — Anita Van Beveren has been returning day after day to watch the brown floodwater creep toward the rental home she shares with her two teenage children. While she got many belongings out, they couldn't move everything — a bicycle is chained to a back deck surrounded by water.

"I cry and pray. There's nothing else to do," said Van Beveren, who is staying with friends. "We keep coming up here every hour. And every hour it's worse."

Many neighbors are keeping similar vigils on Van Beveren's side of Willow Street, which runs parallel to the Tar River and has largely served as a boundary between those who evacuated and those who stayed. The leafy neighborhood — one of many around North Carolina to suffer flooding after Hurricane Matthew — includes one-story homes and small apartment buildings that house a mix of families and students from nearby East Carolina University.

North of Willow, houses and apartments were filling up with water even before the river was expected to crest Thursday. The flooding triggered by heavy rain from Matthew — which killed more than 500 people in Haiti — has left at least 35 dead in the U.S.

South of the street — and uphill from the river — homeowners expect their houses to be dry, and most stayed despite a mandatory evacuation.

"People that are staying are pretty comfortable because a lot of us were here for Floyd, and we know what's coming," said John Benson. He lives on a street that crosses Willow just uphill from a Dead End sign that marked the edge of the floodwaters from Hurricane Floyd in 1999. The Tar River isn't expected to get as high this time.

Joe Davis owns houses on another street that crosses Willow, including a rental property where waist-deep water lapped at the foundation Wednesday.

He watched a worker use duct tape and sheets of plastic to seal crawl space vents after placing sandbags at the doors.

"This is my first time doing this, so we'll see how this works," said Davis, who bought the rental house several months ago.

Wearing duck-hunting waders, Andrew Brauns strode through the murky water after working on Davis' rental house. He does maintenance for several property owners and said he put in several 15-hour days this week.

"These are going to be our two worst houses actually," he said, pointing to the rental house and one across the street. "So we've really been trying to keep the water out. Under the houses, it can wash a bunch of the foundations away."

Two tenants of another house surrounded by several feet of water — Carolyn Raby and Nicole Beauchene — walked up to survey the scene at the end of the street that dead ends near the river. They said their landlord has been letting them stay in another house he owns, but the ordeal has fried their nerves.

"I haven't slept. I don't eat. The only normal thing I have is work and that's sad when work's your only normal thing to do," said Beauchene, who works at the sandwich shop Jimmy John's.

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