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.

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