The town of Princeville is stepping up recovery efforts after flooding from Hurricane Matthew last fall.
Two major hurricanes in less than two decades all-but-decimated the historic eastern North Carolina town founded by former slaves after the Civil War. The town sits in a floodplain near the Tar River.
Only about one-fifth of displaced residents have moved back to town and many more are eager to come home, according to Mayor Pro Tem Linda Joyner, adding that Princeville is resilient, like its ancestors.
“Princeville is not a ghost town,” Joyner said. “We are very much alive. But we do know that we have to clean our town up, and we want to do this for ourselves.”
Some buildings are already being elevated above the water line, and Joyner is hopeful other solutions can give the town a brighter future.
“We know that we cannot prevent the flood, but we can at least prepare for it and be better ready so that we won't have as much destruction as we had in the flood of '99 and the Matthew flood,” Joyner said.
Becky Olson is a project manager for for the construction company Skanska, which has been working with Princeville since before Hurricane Matthew. She is leading a recovery working group to support town leaders concerned with getting displaced residents to move back and rebuild.
“We're also looking at long-term planning for them, and how this affects them in the future,” Olson said. “And the decisions they make now will affect them five, 10, 15 years down the road.”
Princeville has sustainable options to limit flood damage moving forward, according to Gavin Smith, who directs the Department of Homeland Security's Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence.
“A good recovery plan is based on the needs and aspirations of the community,” he said. “And one way to do that is to actually engage in a discussion, in an ongoing dialog. This is not the end, this is the beginning of an ongoing discussion.”
The town will host a series of open houses in the next couple weeks for residents to weigh in on long-term recovery priorities.
The first meeting will be Friday, July 21 at 5:30 p.m. at the Edgecombe County Administrative Building. The second will be Saturday, July 29 at 11 a.m. at the Edgecombe County Memorial Library.