19 storm-related deaths in North Carolina, Governor says

The death toll in North Carolina continues to climb as a result of Hurricane Matthew. (Provided Photo/WNCN)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – There have now been at least 19 storm-related deaths due to Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory said Wednesday.

McCrory said at Wednesday morning’s press conference two more deaths were confirmed, bringing the total to 19.

“I’m sad to report that we have two more fatalities. We now stand at 19 storm fatalities,” he said.

The state is averaging two deaths per day and almost all the deaths so far have been due to drowning.

State officials said Tuesday night that there had been 18 fatalities. The governor reported two more, but only one of those deaths was new.

McCrory reported that a man in Wayne County died after driving his car into flood waters and being swept away — that death had already been confirmed Tuesday night.

He also reported that a 51-year-old man died while walking in flood waters in Johnston County on Sunday, but the body had just been recovered.

McCrory warned residents to stop trying to get past flood waters and said those that live near the Neuse, Tar and Lumbee rivers should stay away from the water.

“Do not get near the water. It will kill you,” he said.

The Neuse River is at record levels in some areas and is forecast to crest Wednesday night. That water is now moving downhill towards Kinston and then the ocean.

The Tar River in Tarboro is also expected to crest Wednesday.

Greenville is bracing for the Tar River waters but has had time to prepare, McCrory said.

“Each of these areas has plenty of notice,” McCrory said.

Robeson County and Lumberton remains underwater with an additional 50 water rescues happening there Tuesday night. McCrory said there have been 80 air rescues made to date by North Carolina rescue helicopters. The U.S. Coast Guard has reported they’ve made at least 94 air rescues.

More than 125 people have been rescued in Wayne County and one person died in Goldsboro in flood waters from Hurricane Matthew after the storm dumped up to 18 inches of rain on Goldsboro and the county since Saturday.

In Johnston County, the Neuse has already passed record stage by more than one foot.

Johnston County residents can now get federal aid to help them cover the costs of damage caused by Hurricane Matthew.

Johnston County is one of four more North Carolina counties where homeowners and renters will be able to apply for federal assistance to repair or rebuild homes damaged by the storm that dropped more than a foot of rain in some parts of the state.

Residents in Bertie, Johnston, Wayne and Wilson join those in 10 other counties that had previously been approved to apply for federal assistance.

The 10 original counties are Beaufort, Bladen, Columbus, Cumberland, Edgecombe, Hoke, Lenoir, Nash, Pitt, and Robeson counties.

So far, 32 counties have been approved for federal funding to help cover the costs of responding to the storm. The funding will also help pay for storm debris removal.

The counties approved for storm response funding are Beaufort, Bertie, Bladen, Brunswick, Camden, Carteret, Chowan, Columbus, Craven, Cumberland, Currituck, Dare, Duplin, Edgecombe, Greene, Hoke, Hyde, Johnston, Lenoir, Nash, New Hanover, Onslow, Pamlico, Pasquotank, Pender, Perquimans, Pitt, Robeson, Tyrrell, Washington, Wayne, and Wilson counties.

“I am committed to doing everything we possibly can to help families and communities recover from the devastating impacts caused by Matthew,” said Gov. Pat McCrory. “We appreciate the expedited federal assistance that will be critical to helping North Carolinians begin the long recovery process.”

All 100 counties in North Carolina will be eligible for funding to help mitigate future storm damage.

Some communities in central and eastern North Carolina are still under evacuation orders.

There have been evacuations in Greenville, Princeville, the Blackwater River basin in Pender County, and in Lenoir County.

There is an ongoing evacuation for those in communities downstream of the Woodlake Dam in Moore County because of the threat that the dam will breach due to a hole in it.

The hole in the dam was the size of car but has since grown to the size of two ambulances, officials said. Members of the National Guard spent hours on Tuesday putting sandbags in place to help secure it.

“If that dam gave way, they’re gone. I want you to understand, they’re on a dam that if that thing broke, they’re gone, and there’s no rescuing them probably because you’ve got millions of gallons of water that’s going to take them away. They’re risking their life to get this thing done,” said Nick Picerno, chairman of the Moore County Board of Commissioners, of the 30 to 40 National Guard members putting their lives at risk to protect the communities downstream.

In the event of a breach, the reservoir would empty in about 30 minutes leading to communities downstream being flooded by two to three feet of additional water, Spring Lake officials said.

McCrory admitted to making a mistake Tuesday by saying the dam was stabilized and that evacuations had been halted.

There are currently 43 shelters open and 3,800 people being housed in those shelters.

“We want these people not to have to stay in these shelters, and we also need to return these shelters to schools. This is going to be our major priority: how do we get at least temporary housing for people who have been flooded?” McCrory said. “We’re talking again, thousands of people. There’s no easy solution.”

For those who have been able to stay in their homes or return home, electricity is still an issue for many.

Around 111,345 customers are still without electricity, according to North Carolina Emergency Management officials. McCrory said those numbers translated to around 300,000 people affected by the outages.

He is working with Duke Energy to restore power to schools. Thirty-four school systems are currently closed.

State Farm said it has received thousands of storm-related claims in North Carolina since Matthew hit.

As of Wednesday, the insurer said it has received 4,310 homeowner claims and 1,290 auto claims.