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Flooding, rescues and then a fatal shooting: Patience wears thin in North Carolina

Flooding, rescues and then a fatal shooting: Patience wears thin in North Carolina
A rescue team transports a resident to safety in Lumberton, N.C. (Mike Spencer / Associated Press)

Forced from her home in this flooded river town, Brittney Lochlear was settling down to sleep in a friend's truck when she heard the gunshot.

"That's somebody dead," the 28-year-old said to a friend. "There's not a sound like that."

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With patience already wearing thin after days of gas shortages, blocked highways and rising waters, residents were left Tuesday to make sense of the fatal police shooting of a man during a rescue effort in high water late Monday.

Floodwaters in Lumberton, N.C.
Floodwaters in Lumberton, N.C. (Mike Spencer / Associated Press)

Police said North Carolina State Highway Patrol Sgt. J.F. Hinson and two Robeson County sheriff's deputies were in a Humvee searching for stranded residents when they found the man on the roadside.

"The male became hostile toward the officers and displayed a handgun," the Highway Patrol said in a news release. "After observing the handgun, [Hinson] shot the man, who succumbed to his injuries."

Hinson, a 13-year member of the state patrol, has been placed on administrative leave, standard procedure in a police-involved shooting.

The shooting took place about 8 p.m. outside the Dobbs Shell Express car wash, Lochlear said, and the police news release corroborated her account. Lochlear said more than 10 police cars converged on the scene, lights flashing.

Police said they did not know the identity of the man who was killed, and the State Bureau of Investigation is now investigating. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said at a Tuesday news conference that investigators were still trying to gather details about the incident, and would only say it happened under "very difficult circumstances."

The shooting added another layer of tension to a region struggling with the collateral damage of the relentless flood. In 25-car gas lines, Southern hospitality is replaced with shouting matches, threats and tires squealing to steal a place in line.

The town of Lumberton has been split by floodwaters into east and west, almost as if it were following racial lines — poorer areas populated by black and Lumbee tribal residents flooded far more than the white areas built on higher ground.

A group of about 15 Lumbee gathered in a parking lot Tuesday morning, a vantage spot from where they could see their homes surrounded by the floodwaters that had poured into the town when the Lumber River overflowed its banks Monday.

North Carolina has now conducted more than 2,000 water rescues, McCrory said, and the emergency efforts here continued into the early hours Tuesday. At 3:30 a.m., James Lowry said his 80-year-old neighbor had to be rescued from her home as floodwaters rushed over the porch and through the front door.

The woman has lived next door to Lowry's 97-year-old father her entire life, and told Lowry she had never before seen water come to her doorstep.

James Hunt, 45 and a Lumbee, was grateful to rescuers who took his mother to the hospital on the east side of town to continue her dialysis treatments. But younger members of the tribe found themselves trapped between floodwaters and the highway, out of gas and unable to get out of town. They said they had been abandoned by the rescue effort.

"They left us out here," Hunt said.

"We [haven't] had no food, no water, just this," he said, pointing to a Mobil station that has no power and is running low on dried goods. "The [National] Guard come down to save some people but we [are] still out here, starving."

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A Lumbee tribe member who lives out in the country cooked and then planned to bring the stranded residents 60 burgers but someone stole them off the back of his truck before he could pass them out.

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UPDATES:

5 p.m.: The story was updated with new details on the police shooting and reaction from residents.

The story was originally posted at 8:10 a.m.

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