A week after Florence, roads still swamped

Authorities urge drivers to follow detours, heed barricades

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Drew C. Wilson | Times

STANTONSBURG — Closures continued on flooded rural roads near town Friday, more than a week after Hurricane Florence made landfall. Even though the peak of flooding from the storm was last Sunday, parts of N.C. 222/N.C. 111 and Pelt Road remained covered with water.

N.C. 58, a major north-south route, which had been closed near the Wilson-Greene county line, has reopened.

Stantonsburg Police Chief Orlando Rosario said Friday that 53 people have been cited for driving around closed or unopened roads.

“Some of these roads are blocked off still,” Rosario said.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation puts up the signs.

“We just enforce the laws of driving around them if you get caught behind them,” Rosario said.

During a Friday patrol of N.C. 222/N.C. 111 in the police department’s 10-ton Humvee, Rosario encountered a white Mustang in the off-limits area near the flooding.

Rosario turned on the vehicle’s blue lights and siren, but the vehicle sped away and out of the closure zone.

“They know what they were doing was wrong and that’s the reason why, for all intents and purposes, they ran from blue lights and siren., which is a felony in North Carolina,” Rosario said. “But at that point, my primary goal was not to get into a car chase with somebody. Our primary goal is to educate the public about how dangerous it is to drive around the road closure signs.”

The goal is not to arrest people as much as educate them.

“It’s an old cliché, but we tell them, ‘Don’t drown, turn around when you see a road closure sign,’” Rosario said. “That’s what we have been telling everybody. It might be a little inconvenient for you to drive around the detours, but there is still access to and from Stantonsburg and the communities around Stantonsburg via the detours.”

Some may think it’s quicker to drive through the water, but Rosario stressed it isn’t safe to do so.

Rosario said NCDOT crews have been testing the roads in the flood zones.

“Just because there isn’t any water on the roadway, there is corrosion that could happen underneath the roadway washing dirt away, making sinkholes,” Rosario said. “Coming up the road on 222 before Pelt Road, there are already bubbles forming underneath, which tells you that there are air pockets underneath there. The pavement is actually bucking and there is pavement that is actually sunken as well.”

Rosario said DOT officials complained that people were taking the signs down and transportation workers were going out to put them right back up.

The chief has been dealing with motorists on the blocked roads all week.

“The roads are still very dangerous,” Rosario said. “Just because it looks like it’s safe to go across does not necessarily mean it is. One foot of water can sweep a vehicle off the roadway.”

At the intersection of N.C. 222/N.C.111 and Pelt Road, the entire area is underwater.

“That is still completely engulfed in water. It is all the way underwater. It is not safe to drive it,” Rosario said. “There’s debris. There’s limbs. There’s trees in the roadway that would render a vehicle inoperable and then we have a vehicle in addition to the water that is blocking a major thoroughfare that first responders are going to have to go out and respond to because someone actually drove around those road closure signs and put other first responders at risk.”

Lt. Skip Covert of the Stantonsburg-Moyton Fire Department has been working as a firefighter for 34 years.

He has a suggestion for motorists who come upon a road closure sign.

“Learn how to read English,” Covert said. “It’s right in your plain view. Please read them. Turn and go elsewhere.”

Interstate 95 South remains closed between Wilson and Rocky Mount, with the NCDOT detouring southbound drivers at Exit 138.

While the flooded sections of I-95 are nearly an hour south of Wilson, DOT spokesman Andrew Barksdale said state engineers determined Rocky Mount to be the best location to divert southbound interstate traffic.

“We’re sorry for the inconvenience” to local motorists, Barksdale said. “We just deemed this the best route at this time. We hope to be able to make more improvements and expecting that by next week, we will be in a position to open that back up. As conditions improve, we hope to be able to move that detour down.”