Rail company blamed for Hurricane Florence flooding in North Carolina town

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LUMBERTON, N.C. — People who live on the south side of town say they know where most of the flooding came from during Hurricane Matthew in 2016: a railroad underpass that intersects Interstate 95.

The underpass lets the railroad tracks owned by CSX run straight through the town’s protective levees, and locals knew water would rush through there again once Hurricane Florence bore down on this region of North Carolina’s Inner Banks, because nothing had been done to stop it.

Town leaders have long wanted a permanent solution, such as a floodgate at the underpass, which a study released in May concluded would save about 2,000 buildings and $232.6 million for a Matthew-equivalent flood — a more than 80 percent reduction in damage.

Last week, with Hurricane Florence approaching, local officials hoped to at least cover the hole in their levee system with a temporary berm — a raised barrier built of sand and rock — before the storm.

The problem, according to local officials, was that CSX would not allow anyone on to their property to build it, despite Florence’s dire trajectory.

“We’re talking about a company that placed life in danger, placed millions of dollars of personal property of individuals in danger to protect their own interests,” said state Sen. Danny Britt, a Republican. “Hopefully this is something that finally gets CSX off its ass.”

A CSX spokeswoman, who asked not to be identified because she said she’s not authorized to speak on the record, acknowledged that Lumberton officials had approached the company about building the temporary berm, but she said the line needed to remain open to move hazardous materials out of the flood zone.