The river in Lenoir County crested about a foot above the old record set by Hurricane Floyd in 1999.
Images from Chopper 11 HD show the flooding and devastation as flood waters cover roads, bridges, homes, and businesses. A gas station was seen completely surrounded by water, but the lights were still on.
It could take days for all of that water to recede.
The river crested at 28.31' - flood stage is at 14'. Businesses and homes in the flood zone were urged to evacuate.
"Having experienced two floods of the century in less than two decades is pretty phenomenal in and of itself, but actually, because of that, 90 percent of the residential areas that would be impacted today, they've already been moved out because FEMA bought those houses years ago," said Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy.
A citywide curfew remains in effect through Saturday morning, the Kinston Police Department said for the "safety of our residents and our first responders."
Betrum Jones and her family said they were not taking any chances. They are like hundreds of families who are now seeking refuge at Red Cross Shelters in Lenoir County.
"We've been through it before but not as bad as this trip," Jones said.
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Jones and family brought clothes and essentials for a few days, but because they couldn't afford to move larger items left behind, they are praying the floodwaters won't touch their home.
"We just come here to try to do the best we can," Betrum said.
Businesses like Kings BBQ in Kinston said they are doing the best they can.
The owner, Joseph Hargitt, packed items into storage that he was able to salvage before the flood waters from Hurricane Matthew hit his restaurant off Highway 70 Thursday morning.
"It's just mind boggling," Hargitt said. "There's actually 2 feet of water in the restaurant right now. And it wasn't supposed to get there until this afternoon."
While Hurricane Matthew is changing the lives of many, Kinston resident and 15-year military veteran Curtis Barrett believes his change was part of God's plan.
"I've lived through Floyd, I've lived through Hurricane Hazel, I lived through the Gulf War. I've lived through a lot," Barrett told ABC11. "And I'm blessed to be here to tell the story."
Barrett is one of hundreds of people across Lenoir County calling a local shelter home for the time being. He feels his military service prepared him for this experience.
"The military takes you through every change that you can possibly think of. High and low," Barrett said. "You can survive. If you believe in that, you're a survivor."
As Barrett awaits what these next few days will bring, he already has plans for what the future holds. He told ABC11 he will finish up his classes at Lenoir Community College and earn a college degree.
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On Friday, Gov. Pat McCrory said 24 people have died - and the number could continue to grow.
"We are still in the midst of a hurricane in North Carolina," he said.
He's urging neighbors in the path of more flooding to evacuate, obey road closures and don't touch the flood waters because it could be contaminated with waste and debris.
"The saddest thing I've seen is today where you see caskets coming out of the ground," McCrory said.
It's just another sign that North Carolina is still in a state of emergency.
Reese Winson, 10, of Kinston, describes this historic moment as a tragedy.
"I just feel bad for families and homes and how they are just getting swept away by water and how people are just dying."
There are 150 National Guard members in Kinston and 50 officers with State Highway Patrol, and members of the Coast Guard to help with emergencies.
The governor says individuals and businesses impacted by the flood will be able to apply for assistance.
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