NEW BERN, N.C. (AP/CNN) — City officials in one North Carolina community sent out an ominous tweet sometime around 2 a.m. Friday. It came as rivers swelled, tides crested and the rain wouldn’t stop. And that’s when people found themselves trapped in their homes as the water rose.
“WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU,” tweeted the city of New Bern. “You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU.”
According to New Bern spokeswoman Colleen Roberts, citizen volunteers with their own boats had offered to help the city coordinate rescues.
“We are not turning away that help,” she said.
Among those volunteers was the Cajun Navy, a volunteer rescue organization formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Organizer Clyde Cain told CNN the Cajun Navy was staged in New Bern and had received more than 500 calls for assistance.
“The tide came up really strong — five to eight feet, they’re saying — and a lot of the people did not get out … got stuck in conditions on the roads,” Todd Terrell, the founder of the Cajun Navy, told ABC News. “So a lot of people we were rescuing from the tops of their vehicles.”
Tom Ballance said his wife went to Atlanta and he stayed behind in their New Bern home with their three dogs and a cat. At around 3:30 p.m. Thursday, the electricity went out. By midnight, his rain gauge showed that he’d gotten 9 inches of rain since mid-afternoon. He drifted off to sleep. About 40 minutes later, he woke and went to a sun room, where he’d boarded up all the windows except for a small hole. He shone a flashlight through the glass.
“I about jumped out of my skin,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Friday morning. “These were waves crashing down.”
Those waves were coming from the Neuse River, which is about 25 feet away, and downhill, from his house. He made a plan B: if the water reached the house, he’d take the pets upstairs to the second floor.
“The water kept rising and kept rising,” he said.
But the water never quite made it to his home. Ballance called the rainfall “biblical,” saying he’s gotten reports from friends that his downtown seafood restaurant was flooded, just like the rest of the small city’s historic downtown, and he’s worried about the hundreds of people who needed to be rescued overnight in the city.
New Bern Mayor Dana Outlaw said in an interview with The Charlotte Observer around 5 a.m. that about 200 people had been rescued so far. Rescues began around 4 p.m. Thursday and continued into the night.
Outlaw couldn’t confirm whether there are injuries or fatalities. “We’ve planned for this. We knew it was coming, and we’re working very hard to keep our citizens safe. We were able to evacuate quite a few; some did not go,” he said.
The city of 29,000 that’s near the North Carolina coast is surrounded by two rivers on the east and south. When Hurricane Florence started battering eastern North Carolina with record rainfall, the Neuse and Trent rivers began to swell — and combined with high tide, made for dangerous flooding and dramatic rescues.
The city has been placed under a 24-hour curfew until further notice, New Bern spokeswoman Colleen Roberts said in an interview just before 7 a.m. Citizen groups are helping with the rescue efforts, she said, and the city is not turning away anyone who offers help.
The National Hurricane Center said there was more than 10 feet of inundation in New Bern.
Craven County spokeswoman Amber Parker said water in low-lying places filled the first and second floors of homes.
“This storm has been hovering over us for a while, and we expect it to continue to hover over us,” she said. “Lots of water, lots of wind, lots of storm surge.”
Residents reached out for help through the night by phone and on social media.
“It’s still going on, it’s unbelievable. I stayed here. I’d been through so many hurricanes,” said Balance, who added that six sheriff’s officers came to his house to rescue him Friday morning, but he didn’t need to leave since the tides and river were receding. “I tell you what. I feel like the dumbest human being who ever walked the face of the earth.”
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