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'I'm really upset at myself for staying': Tales of rescue and heartbreak in Florence's wake

NBC News logo NBC News 9/15/2018 Ali Gostanian and Corky Siemaszko

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Staying put seemed like a good idea to Jeanette Rivera until Hurricane Florence rumbled ashore Friday.

With wind whipping and water rapidly rising around her house in Sneads Ferry, North Carolina, Rivera was cursing herself for not leaving when she had the chance — and waiting to be rescued.

"I'm really upset at myself for staying," Rivera, 47, told NBC News. "I just want to get out of here."

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Rivera said a friend of hers had already called the Cajun Navy, the ragtag team of Louisiana boaters who plucked dozens of stranded people from the rooftops of their flooded homes last year in hurricane-ravaged Houston, to come get her.

"Half my dock is floating," she said. "Our house is completely surrounded by the ocean on all sides. I feel like our house could go at any minute ... We already have a foot of water in our garage and the neighbor's house is completely flooded out."

Rivera said she and her husband had ridden out other storms at home. She said they remembered how difficult it was for residents to return after Hurricane Matthew in 2007.

Plus, Rivera said, her husband is a doctor and they wanted to be around in case anyone needed his help. But now they need help.

"It's difficult for me to watch," she said. "Every angle that I look, I'm surrounded by ocean."

The water rises around Jeanette Rivera's house in Sneads Ferry, N.C. © Provided by NBCU News Group, a division of NBCUniversal Media LLC The water rises around Jeanette Rivera's house in Sneads Ferry, N.C.

Rivera was not the only person in need of saving. Just north of where she was marooned, rescue crews in Craven County were busy.

"We currently have had over 188 calls for rescue of 488 people and the calls are still continuing to come in," said Craven County spokeswoman Amber Parker. "We have people that are reporting they're trapped in attics, they're on their roofs, and also in vehicles that are flooding."

Parker said they've deployed five swift water rescue teams and are also working with the North Carolina Emergency Management team — and the Cajun Navy as well.

"We do have people calling in themselves, we have individuals that are having family members contact us, they've been without power for a significant amount of time now and their phone batteries are just wearing out and so we've got family members calling and continuing to call and we're trying to get to everyone as fast as we can," she said.

In Wilmington, help apparently came too late after a tree fell on a home and trapped three people inside.

NBC's Lester Holt, who was on the scene, reported that responding firefighters were able to get one of the victims out of the house and that the person appeared to be conscious.

A short time later, firefighters were seen emerging from the shattered structure with despondent looks on their weary faces. Their body language spoke volumes — they could be seen taking a knee to pray.

It was later confirmed that a woman and her 8-month-old child died in the home.

"We've had two fatalities here in the city, with a tree that fell on a house," Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said. "This is a dangerous situation, still a very dangerous situation."

Jeanette Rivera captured this view of waters rising outside her house in Sneads Ferry, North Carolina. © Provided by NBCU News Group, a division of NBCUniversal Media LLC Jeanette Rivera captured this view of waters rising outside her house in Sneads Ferry, North Carolina.
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