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Excerpt from Princeville: The 500-Year Flood

Jimmy saw the weather warning flash across the TV screen. Hurricane Floyd was heading toward the North Carolina coast with one hundred-thirty-five-mile-an-hour winds.

In Princeville-a town with two stoplights, one school and no post office-Mama, Jimmy and Lavada packed their bags in case they had to flee the storm. Hurricane Dennis had struck North Carolina just two weeks earlier, and the ground was still soaked when Floyd hit later that same month. That night the wind howled at Lavada's window, a hard rain battered the roof and shadows of trees criss-crossed the wall.

"I'm scared," whined Lavada, running to her mother's bedroom. "Can I sleep with you?"

"Sure honey," said Mama, hugging Lavada.

"How can Jimmy sleep through the hurricane?" Lavada asked.

"Jimmy could sleep through an earthquake," Mama chuckled.

The winds eventually calmed. Princeville residents breathed sighs of relief and unpacked their suitcases. Mama, Jimmy and Lavada kneeled down and prayed. Their town beside the Tar River had been spared. Rain was all that remained of Hurricane Floyd.

The rain poured down for nearly two days, forcing people in lowlands to move to higher ground. By the time the sun began to shine, the Tar River was rising six-to-eight inches an hour.

At nightfall, more than one hundred people worked to sandbag the dike in hopes of holding back the floodwaters.

Shortly after midnight, Mayor Perkins climbed the dike and halted the work. "The water will come three to five feet over the dike. We need everyone to get out."

Sirens and bullhorns blared. When Jimmy jumped out of bed, water was up to his ankles.

"Hurry!" Mama cried, grabbing her car keys. "There's no time to pack. Just put on your shoes and raincoats. We've got to get out of here!"

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