GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) — A state trooper shot and killed an armed man during a search for flood victims in a tense and dispirited North Carolina, and thousands more people were ordered to evacuate as high water from Hurricane Matthew pushed downstream Tuesday, two days after the storm blew out to sea.
Matthew’s death toll in the U.S. climbed to 34, more than half of them in North Carolina, in addition to the more than 500 feared dead in Haiti.
In Greenville, a city of 90,000, officials warned that the Tar River would overwhelm every bridge in the county by sundown, splitting it in half before the river crests late Wednesday. Evacuations were ordered there and in such communities as Goldsboro and Kinston, as rivers swelled to some of the highest levels ever recorded.
Tens of thousands of people, some of them as much as 125 miles inland, have been warned to move to higher ground since the hurricane drenched the state with more than a foot of rain over the weekend during a run up the East Coast from Florida.
An angry Gov. Pat McCrory asked people to stop ignoring evacuation orders and driving around barricades on flooded roads: “That is unacceptable. You are not only putting your life danger, you are putting emergency responders’ lives in jeopardy.”
In the hard-hit town of Lumberton, along the bloated Lumber River, sporadic looting was reported, and a North Carolina trooper searching for people trapped by the floodwaters killed a man who confronted officers with a gun Monday night, police said.
Authorities gave few details, but McCrory said the shooting happened in “very difficult circumstances,” adding: “Tension can be high when people are going through very, very emotional circumstances.”
In Lumberton, patience was wearing thin.
Ada Page, 74, spent two nights sleeping in a hard plastic folding chair at a shelter put together so hastily there were no cots and people had to walk outside in the back to use portable toilets. She complained she didn’t even have her children’s telephone numbers with her.
“I left at home all my clothes, everything. The only thing I have is this child and what I was driving,” said Page, who was with the 8-year-old granddaughter she takes care of.
The full extent of the disaster in North Carolina was still unclear, but it appeared that thousands of homes were damaged. Many likened Matthew to Hurricane Floyd, which did $3 billion in damage and destroyed 7,000 homes in North Carolina as it skirted the state’s coast in 1999.
McCrory said thousands of animals drowned, mostly chickens on poultry farms, and he was deciding how to dispose of the carcasses safely.
The flooding extended to South Carolina, where 150 people had to be rescued Monday from the tiny town of Nichols, downstream from Lumberton. On Tuesday, some residents returned in boats to survey the damage.
Also flooding were the Neuse River, which reached a record crest in Goldsboro on Tuesday, and the Tar River, which threatened Princeville, a town founded in 1865 by freed slaves and destroyed by Floyd’s flooding 17 years ago.
After that, the river flows into Greenville, where Danita Lynch wasn’t taking any chances. She helped her 59-year-old mother load nearly all her belongings into a box truck and get to higher ground.
“We decided to pack her up yesterday. The water is right across the street,” Lynch said.
East Carolina University in Greenville canceled classes for the rest of the week for its more than 28,000 students.
Mary Schulken, the school’s executive director of communications, said that as the Tar began flooding over the weekend, she had to move her 98-year-old mother and her belongings out of her retirement community next to the river.
“She was fearful, upset, anxious, and when she’s that way, I’m that way,” Schulken said. “I know that is a personal experience that is being repeated and has the potential to be repeated many times over in this community.”
Not everyone was obeying the evacuation order.
Angie Hamill was still serving drinks Tuesday afternoon at the Players Retreat Bar next to the river in Greenville. Brown muck from Floyd could still be seen above the chair rail, though the water wasn’t forecast to rise quite that high this time.
The gambling machines and an ATM were removed from the bar to keep them safe.
“We don’t have any games, but we have beer and we have soda,” Hamill said, “and as long as I can keep it cold, we’ll be OK.”
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