Surviving Epic Storm, Flooding: Princeville Remembers Hurricane Floyd

17 Years Later: Memories From Hurricane Floyd

PRINCEVILLE, N.C. -- As Hurricane Matthew heads to our coast, we can't help but remember other storms like Hurricane Floyd.

It slammed the east coast ,17 years ago, putting one North Carolina town under water.

Here we have stories from the people of Princeville who remember it all.


"We had to throw away everything. We lost everything that we had and we had to start all over again," explains Shirley Ruffin.

Ruffin has had 17 years to replace everything she lost in Hurricane Floyd - right down to her rake.

"All that water," she remembers. "It was so much water over here we had to leave. And it came up about 4 feet to my house."

That's not an exaggeration.  If you go to the town museum, you'll see picture after picture of devastation from the flooding.

"I had seen it on television but being in it, I had never been in it before. And I just didn't know what to do."

Across town is another museum of sorts.

His name is Ed Bridgers and at 97 years old, he remembers everything.

"Every house in here was flooded, down in the area of my places of business. They all was covered up."

Princeville was under water for more than a week, but the damage is all a memory.

"I'm doing fine now," Ruffin says. "If Matthew doesn't hit us."

Because the thought of another hurricane hit...

"It's a scary feeling," Ruffin admits. "It really is. Because we don't know what's going to happen. We don't know how bad the wind is going to get. And is it going to destroy everything we got again?"

So, Ruffin is doing what she can before she has to do what she knows - hunkering down to weather the storm.

"We'll make it. We will make it."


When you drive through the streets of Princeville now you might never know that people once had to float down them.

"A lot of water back in '99 when Floyd came," explains Sgt. Joe Cofield. "As a matter of fact is was around my birthday. It stays with me quite often."

Sgt. Cofield with the Edgecome County Sheriff's Office was one of the people out in the water.  His mission after hurricane floyd tore through: search and rescue.

"You figure back then when the water came in the way it did, to see houses to be moved off the foundation," he remembers.  "You're riding in the boat and you're touching the bottom of a stoplight. It's just amazing how much water actually came into this small town."

What's perhaps is more amazing is that no one from Princeville died during the flooding.  But the extreme act of nature is something that will always haunt this town.

"It puts fear in people," Cofield explains. "When you talk about a lot of water, it brings back a lot of memories."

And yet, the folks who have lived here all their lives - like Sgt. Cofield, are grateful to be alive.  But they're also grateful to be in Princeville, a close-knit community that was almost wiped off the map - if not for neighbors helping neighbors, pulling through together.

"We've come a long way," he says proudly.


It's hard to forget Ed Bridgers - and he doesn't forget anything either...

He's a 97-year-old WWII veteran - and he's as sharp as a tack.

"The '99 floods was September 16, 1999."

He distinctly remembers Hurricane Floyd and the historic flooding that came with it, burying his hometown of Princeville in water.

"Flooded all the creeks, farms and everything around Edgecome County."

Inside his house, the water came up to the fire place, but outside, was even worse.  His store, his barber shop - all the houses under water.

"It was devastating," Bridgers says. "You lost everything you've built up over a period of time. From the 1940 to 1999. How many years is that?"

Before the floods Bridgers says he was the Mayor of Princeville.  He served 2 terms, dedicating his time to make the town better.  He says it was the same attitude that got them through the floods.

Now, 17 years later, his stores stand tall.  His family is safe. He has grandkids.  There's a new normal in Princeville.

And then, the threat of Matthew brings the horror back to life.

"I know what the people are going through and they'll have to go through it," Bridgers shares. "I can see that. I experienced it. They're going to be somewhere without a home. Without places to eat."

But he also knows how to get through it.

"Have a belief," he tells. "Belief that you'll recover. And you will"

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