TARBORO, N.C. (AP) — Floodwaters as high as some rooflines swamped one of the country's oldest towns chartered by African-Americans, setting up a daunting rebuilding effort for the second time in less than 20 years.
On Friday, Gov. Pat McCrory met with Princeville residents and town officials to pledge support after flooding spawned by Hurricane Matthew. The town was also inundated in 1999 after Hurricane Floyd.
McCrory said that with water as deep as 10 feet in the town of 2,000 people, at least eight out of 10 houses have been damaged.
"I'd say about 80 to 90 percent have definite water to the floors, to the windows, including the mayor's," he said.
The governor said National Guard troops have been sent to Princeville to prevent looting. The river has crested, but residents haven't been allowed to return.
"The thing that's so disconcerting to me ... is that a lot of these people who lost everything had very little to begin with," he said. "We're going to do everything we can to help them."
The county is among about two dozen in the state where residents are eligible for FEMA disaster aid.
Upstream, flooding has eased in some communities. Yet for other cities, such as Kinston and Greenville to the south and east, more days of flooding are expected.
Wilmington, near where the Cape Fear River meets the coast, is bracing for downtown flooding this weekend.
North Carolina officials said late Friday that they were looking into a "possible coal ash release" at a Duke Energy plant in Wayne County. The H.F. Lee plant is near the Neuse River, one of the waterways overflowing from torrential rains during Matthew.
Duke Energy released a statement saying floodwater rose over inactive basins covered in shrubs, trees and other plants. The company said some coal ash was carried away by floodwater, but testing in the river nearby didn't show measurable coal ash constituents.
Matthew killed more than 500 people in Haiti and has left at least 41 dead in the U.S. North Carolina's death toll grew to 24 and South Carolina reported an additional death Friday, the fifth fatality in the state.
For Princeville, the flooding is a sad replay of Hurricane Floyd's aftermath in September 1999, when floodwaters rose as high as 20 feet in the town.
This time, water flowed around the town's rebuilt dike. Princeville's is one of the country's first towns created by freed slaves in 1865.
Since Matthew struck, Princeville resident Lynn McLean said she's been staying in a motel and an outreach center in a nearby town with her children ages 15, 13, 12 and 9. They live in public housing near the Tar River.
"Well the thought of starting over and not knowing how or when things are going to change and be better for us is heartbreaking," the 45-year-old mother said. "I mean, we know people are going to help, but they can only help so much."
Saying she doesn't work or have insurance to cover flood losses, she doesn't know how she will replace furniture, clothing and other belongings: "I have no clue."