Historic, flood-prone town of Princeville to get nearly $40 million for new levee

United States Coast Guard Petty Officer Randy Witko, of Putnam, Illinois, guides his small boat past a flooded house in an East Tarboro neighborhood, near Princeville, N.C., on Sept. 23, 1999. Like many towns in eastern North Carolina, Princeville was hit hard by Hurricane Floyd. More than 90 percent of the town was covered by water.

Badly flooded by two different storms, the historic town of Princeville will get a new wall along its river border.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Thursday construction of a $39.6 million levee intended to protect the town from the flood waters of the Tar River, according to a news release from the office of U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C.

Princeville flooded at record levels with water reaching more than 20 feet in 1999 after Hurricane Floyd passed through. The Tar River breached its banks and an old levee built in the 1960s. Residents were snatched from rooftops by helicopters and carried to high ground as the water kept rising.

The town flooded again after Hurricane Matthew and roughly 450 homes were destroyed. There were reports afterward that the town might have to be abandoned.

Princeville is the first town in America founded by former slaves. The town of about 2,000 people is 95 percent black with an average annual income of $12,000, less than half the national average, according to a report by the Corps of Engineers following Hurricane Matthew.

“The protection of Princeville and the preservation of its place in our nation’s history cannot be overstated,” Butterfield said. “The completion of the levee project will ensure the longevity of this historic town for current and future generations.”

North Carolina’s two senators, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, both Republicans, also sent out news releases supporting the allotment.

Details of the levee construction and road elevation plans are not yet available, according to Jed Clayton, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Jeff Hampton, 252-491-5272, jeff.hampton@pilotonline.com

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