KINSTON, NORTH CAROLINA - Officials in North Carolina said they would go door to door on Wednesday urging people to leave low-lying areas as rivers swollen by rainfall from Hurricane Matthew continue to rise, threatening homes and resulting in more drownings.
Floodwaters have swamped areas across the central and eastern part of the state, forcing more than 3,800 residents to flee to shelters, closing down stretches of major interstate highways and shuttering 34 school systems, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory said.
McCrory said the death toll in the state had risen to 19, mostly due to drowning. That figure represents more than half of the deaths in the U.S. Southeast linked to the fierce Atlantic storm, which killed some 1,000 people in Haiti and displaced hundreds of thousands more as it tore through the Caribbean last week.
"Do not get near the water," McCrory said at a news conference in Raleigh. "It will kill you."
Matthew's aftermath drew comparisons to Hurricane Floyd, which triggered devastating floods in North Carolina in 1999 and caused more than $3 billion in damages in the state.
In Kinston, where the Neuse River is expected to peak on Saturday just shy of the Floyd record, Mayor B.J. Murphy warned residents on Wednesday not to be fooled by the beautiful fall weather and clear skies.
"We want you out, and we want you out now," he said in an interview on WITN television news. "This is a very dangerous situation."
Kinston resident Toby Hatch, 60, who lived through Floyd and Hurricane Irene, which destroyed his home in 2011, heeded the city's evacuation order this week and headed to a shelter.
"I didn't really want to leave, but I was already looking at enough water that I was trapped," he said.
Evacuations also continued in Greenville, where the Tar River was 10 feet above flood stage and forecast to crest even higher by Friday. Flooding has forced the city's airport to close and classes were canceled for the week for East Carolina University's 28,000 students.