Princeville frets about flooding


Staff Writer

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The town of Princeville could again be in the crosshairs of another natural disaster as Hurricane Florence is set to impact the Twin Counties. 

In both Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016, the small Edgecombe County was under water because of flooding from the storms. In the case of Hurricane Matthew, about 80 percent of Princeville was under water and there are still people displaced from their homes. 

Princeville Mayor Bobbie Jones said another potential hurricane could be another huge setback for the oldest town in the country chartered by freed slaves. He said town officials are in constant contact with local emergency management officials on updates about the trajectory of the storm.

Jones said in a meeting Tuesday, emergency management officials said possible flooding is expected for the Southern Terrace area.

“It would be devastating for the town of Princeville if we received another flood in the magnitude of Matthew or Floyd, so we’ve been updated two or three times a day about the status,” Jones said. “We have not recommended a voluntary evacuation at this time, but as soon as we feel we need to then we will do a voluntary evacuation.”

Jones urges residents to continue the monitor the situation as the latest projections on Wednesday more or less showed the storm shifting soth and westward in a way that suddenly put more of South Carolina in danger and Georgia in harm’s way as well.

“We’re going to do exactly what we are told to do in order to save lives and make sure all of our people are safe,” Jones said. “We’re going to worry about the material possessions later, but we hope people will go ahead and start packing just in case. They need to have all their vital information and their medicines ready to go in case there is a voluntary evacuation.”

Edgecombe County Manager Eric Evans said the main threat to Princeville is flooding coming from the Tar River. 

“Over the next couple days when the storm drops its rain and all, we will be monitoring the river,” he said. “If it seems like the river level is going to flood, we will consult with the town of Princeville to talk about people evacuating the town.”

As he has touched on the past, Jones reiterated his point about the need to improve the Princeville levee. A levee was built after Princeville was buried by 22 feet of water by Hurricane Floyd.

Six months before Hurricane Matthew hit, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed a report that found flaws in the levee design that had been previously overlooked, and Matthew pushed water over the levee that left a majority of the town underwater.

Reports said the existing Princeville levee runs along the Tar River on the northern edge of town. The Army Corps of Engineers suggested modifying the levee and adding culvert gates to the south, a new roadside levee to the west and raising roads on the east side of the town.

Despite the Princeville levee project being authorized by Congress in the Water Improvements for the Nation Act of 2016, Jones remains disappointed that no work has been started. In the Consolidated Budget Appropriations Act of 2018, which was passed in March, Congress provided a total of $360 million in additional funding for flood control and storm damage reduction.

The act urges the Corps of Engineers to prioritize funding for projects involving at-risk populations. Gov. Roy Cooper has said he’s ready to match federal funding to improve the Princeville levee and that the levee project is a priority for the state and personally important to him.

“We’ve been telling our elected officials all along when it comes down to Princeville, it’s not stopping but going down to Greenville and Kinston,” Jones said. “In order for us to save money in the long run, they need to go ahead and repair the dike and also build a reservoir that’s in one of the governor’s proposals between Raleigh and Princeville. That will make the water come down hill and go to these big massive parts of land we have available instead of coming to Princeville and other parts of Eastern North Carolina.”