Nation

After hurricane, chaos lingers in water-logged N. Carolina; US deaths rise to 23

Flooding in Lumberton, N.C., will probably persist for the rest of the week, officials said. The town is home to about 22,000 people.
Chris Keane/reuters
Flooding in Lumberton, N.C., will probably persist for the rest of the week, officials said. The town is home to about 22,000 people.

LUMBERTON, N.C. — With flood waters from Hurricane Matthew on the rise, Lumberton appeared near chaos Monday, its police station closed and sporadic gunfire in the air, and authorities worried that more communities could end up the same way.

The storm is gone, but it left behind a waterlogged landscape where flooding was expected to persist for the rest of the week. At least three rivers were forecast to reach record levels, some not cresting until Friday.

In many areas, the scene resembled a repeat of Hurricane Floyd, which caused $3 billion in damage and destroyed 7,000 homes as it skirted the coast in 1999.

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Officials were concerned that other cities could suffer the fate of Lumberton, a community of 22,000 people about 80 miles from the ocean.

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The Rev. Volley Hanson worried that stress from the lack of running water and electricity might push people over the edge. Robeson County, which includes Lumberton, had North Carolina’s highest violent crime rate in 2014.

‘‘The cash is going to be running out. We’ve already got street vendors hawking water, Cokes, and cigarettes. Cigarettes are at seven bucks a pack,’’ Hanson said. ‘‘It’s nuts here, and it’s going to get worse.’’

The storm killed about 1,000 people in Haiti and at least 23 in the United States, nearly half of them in North Carolina. At least three US residents were missing.

The National Civil Protection headquarters in Port-au-Prince said the confirmed nationwide death toll in Haiti was 372, which included at least 198 deaths in Grand-Anse. But local officials have said the toll in Grand-Anse alone tops 500 and said the nationwide total was more than 900, with rescuers still trying to reach some hard-hit areas.

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In response to the damage wrought by the hurricane in Haiti, the UN humanitarian agency in Geneva made an emergency appeal Monday for nearly $120 million in aid, saying about 750,000 people in southwest Haiti alone will need ‘‘life-saving assistance and protection’’ in the next three months.

UN officials said earlier that at least 1.4 million people across the region need assistance and that 2.1 million overall have been affected by the hurricane. Some 175,000 people remain in shelters.

Electricity was still out, water and food were scarce in Haiti, and officials said young men in villages along the road between the cities of Les Cayes and Jeremie were building blockades of rocks and broken branches to halt relief convoys.

A convoy of food, water, and medicine was attacked by gunmen in a remote valley where there had been a mudslide, said Frednel Kedler, coordinator for the Civil Protection Agency in the Grand-Anse Department, which includes Jeremie.

The full extent of the disaster in North Carolina also was still unclear, but it appeared that thousands of homes were damaged, and more were in danger of flooding.

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One silver lining may be that emergency planners now have sophisticated models that can precisely determine a river’s crest and pinpoint which buildings will be flooded. But even those models have their limits.

They cannot predict when a levee or a dam will fail. A levee in Lumberton appeared to fail overnight, but officials later concluded that flood waters had flowed around it.

About 1,500 people had to be rescued early Monday. Most of them were in knee-deep water, but some fled to rooftops as the brown waters swirled around them.

Rescuers still have not made it to all the submerged cars or figured out exactly how many people are missing or dead, said Stephanie Chavis, county emergency management director.

Damien Mosher and his fiance were trying to make it to their coastal home in South Carolina but were detoured to Lumberton because Interstate 95 — a major artery for the East Coast — was closed.

Shelters turned them away because of their two dogs, so they ended up in the Police Department parking lot, listening to occasional gunfire around them. The department’s doors were locked and most of the 75 or so officers were out helping with traffic or rescues.

The Lumber River crested 4 feet above its record level Sunday in Lumberton and was forecast to remain there until Saturday.

River flooding was happening in other places, too. In the tiny town of Nichols, S.C., downstream from Lumberton, at least 100 people spent the night on the third floor of the town hall.

Governor Pat McCrory of North Carolina pleaded with residents to heed evacuation orders and to be careful. The seven-day forecast of clear, cooler weather was good for cleanup, but might lure people into a false sense of security.

‘‘This is going to be a prolonged hurricane for us even though the skies are blue,’’ the governor said.

Engineers had no estimate on when I-95 would reopen. Driving was difficult, if not impossible because hundreds of roads were closed, in some cases isolating entire towns.

Dozens of school districts and East Carolina University canceled classes for the entire week.