Saving Princeville: N.C. gov. pledges to rebuild historic African-American town

For the second time in 20 years, the town of Princeville, N.C., thought to be the nation's oldest town chartered by African-Americans, has been engulfed in surging floodwaters.

Jonathan Drake/Reuters
A rescue team navigates their boat through the flooded streets as the Tar River crests in the aftermath of hurricane Matthew, in Princeville, N.C., on Thursday.

The resilience of the character embodied by the African-American founders of Princeville, N.C., will need to resurface again as residents come to grips with the extent of damage to their properties from receding hurricane floodwaters.

Princeville, thought to be the oldest town in the nation to be incorporated by former African-American slaves, was essentially underwater Thursday after rains from last week's hurricane Matthew caused the local Tar River to swell and overflow the dike.

"Princeville is basically underwater at this time," Gov. Pat McCrory said at a news conference Thursday where he pledged support for the city. "We’re going to have a lot of work to do in Princeville," he said, "a lot of work, a lot of recovery. We’re going to have to rebuild a town."

National Guard troops in high-water vehicles were sent to the city to prevent potential looting from stores and empty homes.

This is the second time in less than 20 years that hurricane floodwaters have threatened to wash the town away. In 1999, hurricane Floyd inundated the town when a dike failed – back then water levels reached 20 feet near the town hall.

"I used to live in Princeville when Floyd came. That's why I left. I said I'd had enough of it," Theodore Rowe, a retired US Marine Corps drill sergeant who has lived in the area for about 30 years, told the Associated Press. "The last time this happened, it was two weeks before we could get back. When we got back, the house had made a 180-degree turn. It faced the street, but when we went back, the back of it was facing the street."

The state's death toll from the hurricane, which killed more than 500 in Haiti, had reached 22. Governor McCrory urged people to stay off flooded roads after one of the most recent deaths resulted from a man driving around a road barrier and into a washout.

The number of homes with power outages is down to 44,000 from a peak of more than 800,000 Sunday. However, the governor said flooding continues to be an issue in poorer areas in the state's east with the Tar river expected to crest in Greenville on Friday morning and the Neuse river expected to do the same in Kinston late Friday.

Emergency relief workers performed 2,300 rescues, including 80 by air, since flooding following the hurricane forced people out of their homes, according to The Charlotte Observer. As of Thursday, 39 shelters remained opened serving around 2,600 people, according to the American Red Cross.

Following visits to shelters, McCrory praised the people's fortitude in the face of the devastation, as the Charlotte Observer reported:

"I have never met more resilient and thankful people" who were staying upbeat even though "it’s their whole lives they feel like they’ve lost."

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.