No. 1: Matthew's wind, heavy rains left area flooded


Floodwaters cover roads and yards in the Bunker Hill area of South Mills after Hurricane Matthew brought heavy rains on Oct. 9.


By William F. West
Staff Writer

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Editor’s note: Our lookback at the top stories of 2016 concludes today.

In a matter of hours on an October weekend, Hurricane Matthew turned some of the Albemarle region's low-lying sections into lakes and rivers, causing more than few bridges, roads and streets to become impassible and claiming the life of a Gates County motorist.

Additionally, the storm's aftermath forced many residents out of their flooded homes or prompted them to tough out the situation without basic utilities or the ability to come and go as they like for days.

Most impacted from the deluge locally were residents in Elizabeth City's Oxford Heights, Pasquotank County's Bray's Estates and Camden County's Bunker Hill Road area.

Local officials had warned the hurricane would bring strong winds and heavy rain before Oct. 9, a Sunday. Officials opened a shelter at Knobbs Creek Recreation Center on Saturday, where about 60 area residents would go for a dry place, a warm bed and food to ride out the hurricane.

Christy Hunt, an Albemarle region American Red Cross volunteer, said shelter volunteers were particularly busy later Saturday evening when first responders began bringing in people who had to be rescued after being stranded in their homes. Hunt said many were horrified, shocked and soaking wet.

“I had to fight back tears myself because it was just heartbreaking,” she said, noting many of the evacuees didn't go to sleep for quite a time. “It was heartwrenching.”

Once emergency calls started coming in to Central Communications Saturday evening, firefighters worked through the night, using elevated vehicles to drive through the flood waters and pick up residents stranded in their homes.

William Wright, a junior firefighter with Inter-County Volunteer Fire Department, helped Elizabeth City firefighters rescue numerous persons from all parts of the city. He said water levels were “navel high” in some areas.

After daylight approached Sunday morning, the focus of public attention shifted to the plight of residents in the Oxford Heights and Bray's Estates areas, as well as in the Bunker Hill Road area.

“We've never had it this bad,” Joyce Dorsey said as she watched her husband, Norman, gather their things from their flooded home in Oxford Heights.

The entire Oxford Heights neighborhood was without power the Monday after the hurricane, and city crews had to remove a roughly 100-foot tree that toppled a power line on Providence Road.

Joyce Dorsey, who has lived in Oxford Heights for more than 30 years, said her home had never experienced the kind of flooding like what came with Matthew.

At Bray's Estates, residents found themselves trapped by floodwaters covering Scott Road, the only route in and out of their neighborhood.

Bray's Estates resident Jennifer Pieper said her family had been unable to leave since arising Sunday morning and seeing the floodwaters.

"We were pretty scared when we woke up because it had come up to the house,” she said. “We had about two inches before it was going to come in the house. ... I mean, I woke up and I could hear the water hitting the foundation.”

In the Bunker Hill Road area, resident Betty Turner ended up in a boat the Monday after Matthew because, like many of her neighbors in the low-lying area, she and her sister live in a home surrounded by floodwaters, up to six feet in some places.

Turner was used to flooding, and the area, in fact, had just dried out from similar flooding a few weeks earlier, when torrential rains from the remnants of Tropical Storm Julia blew through. Still, Turner said that was nothing compared to Matthew. “This is the worst one,” she said.

Turner and her sister were among the scores of people from the Bunker Hill Road area that firefighters and other emergency personnel had to rescue by boat on Monday. N.C. Highway 343 was impassible from Bunker Hill Road to South Mills because of the high water.

The hurricane left about a foot of water in the residence of Debbie Riddick, who shares her home with her father on N.C. Highway 343 but who left and stayed with her sister in Pasquotank County's Newland area.

“I've lived here about 40 years and this is the first time water has ever come inside the house,” Riddick said. “Looking at everything, it's depressing. I tell you, it makes you want to cry.”

Adding to the problem, Pasquotank-Camden Emergency Management reported, was a partial breach of the dike in the Newland area which flooded 2,500 to 3,000 acres of farmland in the area.

Away from the Elizabeth City area, in the Sunbury community in Gates County, Thomas Elliott Saunders, 75, died Saturday after the truck he was driving was swept off N.C. Highway 32 in the midst of the stormy conditions.