Residents of flooded N.C. town thankful to be alive
PRINCEVILLE, N.C. (AP) – After losing their homes and just about everything they own to Hurricane Floyd’s floodwaters, people in Princeville have plenty to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, it turns out.
”I just thank the Lord I’m alive,” Delois Morgan said as she picked up a free Thanksgiving turkey.
So does everyone else.
Floyd drenched eastern North Carolina with up to 20 inches of rain Sept. 16, causing the worst flooding in the state’s history. It was blamed for at least 51 deaths. But none of them happened here.
”It’s a blessing how this whole place was squashed and nobody was lost,” said Anna Bell Brown, 73, whose home will be torn down and rebuilt.
Still, the town of 2,100 founded by freed slaves after the Civil War sustained worse damage than any other community flooded by Floyd. Townspeople lost furniture, personal keepsakes and clothing when waters surged above rooftops and destroyed 850 of Princeville’s 1,154 homes.
Most residents are living with friends and relatives or in a government trailer park 16 miles away in Rocky Mount, where a community dinner is planned for Thursday in tents donated by a church.
The people living in the trailers will be able to line up for donated turkey, ham, dressing, gravy, potato salad, green beans, collard greens and corn bread and eat off paper plates with their fellow Floyd refugees.
Police Sgt. Gary Foxx, 42, married five days before Floyd struck, said this will be the first Thanksgiving in 10 years he hasn’t had to work. The celebrating will be done 22 miles from Princeville in a rented home he and his new wife are sharing with his son and 72-year-old aunt. Both his home and his wife’s house were lost in the flood.
”I’m going to enjoy it with my family,” Foxx said. ”We never had a chance to get our houses together.”
Shirley Ruffin, 60, planned a Thanksgiving dinner with her children in her rented home outside town. She is eager to return to her own flood-damaged home, yet frets about the cost of repairing it.
Mental health professionals expect the flood aftermath will worsen the normal holiday blues. Across the region, damage to farms, homes and businesses may top the $6 billion caused by Hurricane Fran in 1996.
”People who are emotionally tired from the incredible stress of Hurricane Floyd need to be kind to themselves during the holidays,” said Dr. Phillip Veenhuis, medical director for the state mental health division. ”Many people are already worn out just coping with the recovery effort from the storm.”
But there was some cause for optimism in Princeville this week, after the town Board of Commissioners voted Monday to ask the Army Corps of Engineers to repair the town’s Tar River dike rather than accept a government home-buyout program that might have dismantled the community.
”There is hope,” said Sam Knight, the town’s planning and zoning director. ”Everyone is happy about the decision.”
While Princeville’s recovery will require the destruction of many homes, officials hope that a healthy business district will emerge and that the rebuilding will teach residents trades that will help them find jobs.
”We’re looking at possibly six months of demolition,” said Willie Snead, manager of the recovery project. ”That’s what’s giving the people hope, seeing some activity.”