By Jonathan Drake
TARBORO, N.C. (Reuters) - Floodwaters inundated the historic black town of Princeville, North Carolina, on Thursday, leaving homes submerged to their roof lines as the state's death toll in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew climbed to 22.
Flooding from the Tar River had been expected in Princeville, which was founded in 1885 and believed to be the oldest U.S. town incorporated by freed slaves, and most of its 2,000 residents evacuated.
North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory described a dramatic rise in the water level in the town, long been plagued by flooding and devastated by floods after Hurricane Floyd in 1999.
Areas that had about a foot of water on Thursday morning were covered in up to 12 feet by afternoon, he said.
"Princeville is basically under water at this time," McCrory told a news conference after flying over the town. "You gotta see it to believe it."
The governor praised the town's residents for heeding evacuation orders, saying no one there had died.
However, McCrory announced two additional fatalities after the storm death toll rose to 20 late on Wednesday. The latest victims included someone who drowned in Lenoir County after driving around a barricade for a washed-out roadway. Most of the state's deaths from the hurricane have been drownings, he said.
"Stay off the roads," McCrory said. "Stay out of the water."
More than 30 deaths in the United States have been blamed on Matthew, with a fourth death announced in South Carolina by that state's governor on Thursday. Before hitting the southeast U.S. coast, the fierce storm killed around 1,000 people on its rampage through Haiti last week.
The recovery effort in central and eastern North Carolina is expected to take weeks or months. So far, the federal government has disbursed about $2.6 million to individual flooding victims and approved $5 million for emergency road repairs.
(Additional reporting and writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Tom Brown)