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Fayetteville, North Carolina, Evacuates Downtown Ahead of Potentially Catastrophic Flooding

Cape Fear River to Crest Above 61 Feet for First Time in City History After Hurricane Florence
September 19, 2018

A small plaza submerged under several feet of water marked the start of flooding Tuesday in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. Photo credit: Paul Owers, CoStar Group

On the edge of downtown Fayetteville, North Carolina, the flooding from Hurricane Florence started at the Cape Fear Botanical Garden and over at Kelly’s Cleaners on Person Street on Tuesday morning. As night fell, the city was waiting to find whether that few feet of water would grow to be the worst catastrophe in its history.

Evacuations were underway as the city of 200,000 people near Fort Bragg prepared to enter uncharted territory: Sometime early Wednesday the Cape Fear River on the edge of the business district was projected to rise above 61 feet for the first time, a level where no one knows what will happen.

The city ordered everyone evacuated within a mile on either side of the river at a point that's 90 miles east of where Hurricane Florence made landfall on Sept. 14. City Council member Jim Arp was urging residents to evacuate because any widespread flooding would be even too dangerous for rescue workers to enter the flood zone.

“If the river crests at 61 feet, it could be catastrophic for those folks,” he said. “The biggest thing we want to do is to protect lives."

 Read More CoStar Coverage of Hurricane Florence 

Many businesses near the river remain closed, and the city estimates 12,000 nearby residents could be in harm’s way.

The potential disaster playing out in the early hours of Wednesday in Fayetteville reflects preliminary estimates from Moody's Analytics that put the cost of hurricane damage at $17 billion to $22 billion. That much damage would rank it among the top 10 costliest U.S. hurricanes.

Throughout Tuesday, concerns among residents in Fayetteville for those in seaside Wilmington, North Carolina, the hardest-hit area where Hurricane Florence made landfall, shifted t­o concern for their own city as the Cape Fear River kept rising. By afternoon, crowds in Fayetteville were trying to gather at a bridge to watch the rising water that officials closed.

Garland Sinclair.
Photo Credit: Paul Owers

Nearby stood Garland Sinclair, 75, a lifelong Fayetteville resident, who said he used to go fishing for mudcats in the river as a kid. Parallel to the river was a flooded road called Water Street that Sinclair remembers leading to an area with nightclubs where James Brown once played.

“It’s an eerie feeling to see this now,” said the retired Air Force master sergeant. “I just wanted to take a picture because this is something we never expected to happen.”

The estimate for when the river will crest has changed several times and early Tuesday evening was projected for around dawn Wednesday at 61.6 feet. As of Tuesday afternoon, the river was at 60.63 feet, above the level of Hurricane Matthew that hit the area two years ago, which was the record.

The city and Cumberland County, along with Federal Emergency Management teams, say they have rescued 81 people from the floodwaters.

The Fayetteville City Council has appropriated $2.3 million for Hurricane Florence cleanup, an amount it hopes will be reimbursed from federal, state and local sources, City Manager Douglas Hewett told CoStar News.

Hewett said he and other officials are worried that residents will become complacent now that the storm has passed.

“It’s a beautiful day, but we still have a flooding risk,” he said Tuesday afternoon on the river bank.

All roads to Wilmington remained closed Tuesday, and it could be several days before they open.

"That city is cut off from the rest of the state, and I can't even imagine that," said Hewett, a native of Brunswick County, North Carolina, near Wilmington. "My heart just breaks for what sounds like devastation."

Outside Fayetteville, North Carolina's sixth-biggest city, initial reports from real estate investment trusts of damage from the storm were starting to come in. Chicago Equity LifeStyle Properties' preliminary assessment put the damage at $1 million to its five properties along coastal North Carolina. Flooding, wind, wind-blown debris and falling trees and branches damaged buildings. The REIT said it doesn’t expect it to have a material effect on its financial results.

Paul Owers, Market Reporter  CoStar Group   

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