Princeville uneasy as hurricane season gets underway

A before-and-after photo from Hurricane Matthew (WTVD photo)

PRINCEVILLE, Edgecombe County - To know how the people of Princeville feel about the potential threat of the next hurricane, you have to look back at the last one.

On the first day of hurricane season 2017, remnants of Hurricane Matthew that hit in October 2016, leaving 80-percent of the historic town on the Tar River 10 feet under water, are everywhere you look.

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Houses are abandoned, windows left cracked open, signs deeming the structures unsafe hang from front doors. But, there is some progress. Without ceasing, since the water receded, volunteers from all over the country have come to Princeville to help rebuild the houses that can be restored.

Staring at a flood map hanging on the wall of a temporary town hall in neighboring Tarboro, Milton Bullock, Princeville town commissioner and Princeville native, is uneasy. "Trying to move it forward, racing against time," said Bullock of his hometown ever so slowly on the mend as hurricane season comes around again. About 800 families were displaced in Hurricane Matthew; many have applied to either elevate their homes, demolish and rebuild, or take a buyout option. Case workers have been struggling to reach families who were relocated during the storm; many scattered to surrounding cities. Others who chose to stick around are still living in hotels or FEMA trailers.

William Staton lives just outside town limits in Edgecombe County. He and his wife left their home as Hurricane Matthew moved through eastern North Carolina. When they returned more than a week later, 18 inches of water was sitting, soaking the inside of their house. Now, thanks to the help of volunteer groups working to restore his home, he's hoping to move back in by the end of July, unafraid of what Mother Nature could have in store. "I tell everybody if I go somewhere else, something else could get me," he said. "So I'm going to just stay right here." Milton said town officials have been doing what they can to help ensure the river stays within its banks should another storm hit. They've been fighting for federal funding to extend levees and working with the NC Department of Transportation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make adjustments to culverts they say would help prevent another disaster in the town founded by freed slaves in the 1800s. "If you don't secure the river, fix the problem, you're throwing away money and you're wasting time and you're sending false hopes to people that want to come back because they have no other place to go and they want to hold onto the historical legacy," said Bullock.

In the meantime, volunteer organizations will keep serving as hurricane season rolls on. "That's always a threat but it's not going to thwart us from doing our work," said Brooks Wadsworth with United Methodist Disaster Response. "We'll keep moving ahead." Princeville residents who have been displaced are encouraged to call Hilda Morris with the Town of Princeville at (252) 902-5129 Anyone wanting to make a donation to flood victims can call Town Hall at (252) 823-1057

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