4 dead as storm makes landfall in North Carolina
The Weather Channel implemented new studio graphics to show how severe flooding can be, and they are incredible.
SWAN QUARTER, N.C. – Having punished the Carolinas with winds, heavy rains and record flooding, Hurricane Florence was downgraded Friday afternoon to a tropical storm, still packing a punch with 70 mph winds.
Those who didn’t flee the deadly storm were seeking shelter in attics or the upper floors of homes after the hurricane marched ashore earlier in North Carolina. At nightfall, it was centered in eastern South Carolina, about 15 miles from Myrtle Beach.
In the first report of storm-related fatalities, a mother and infant died after a tree fell on a house in Wilmington, North Carolina, according to local police. The father was hospitalized with injuries.
In addition, a woman in Hampstead suffered a heart attack Friday morning, but emergency crews could not reach her before she died because of downed trees in the road, ABC News reports.
A fourth person was killed while plugging in a generator in Lenoir County, north of Wilmington, according to WITN-TV, quoting the governor’s office.
WITN said county authorities were also investigating the death of a fifth person, a 78-year-old man whose body was found on a street outside of Kinston. He apparently was blown down after he went outside to check on his hunting dogs.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said several other deaths were under investigation as possibly related to the storm.
“We have days of rain ahead of us,” he warned. “If you’re asked to evacuate, go.”
He said swift water rescue teams had brought hundreds to safety in New Bern. About 20,000 people are in shelters as of Friday afternoon. Sandbagging had started in Lumberton in hopes it would prevent some flooding, and flooding was likely in towns that had never experienced it.
Forecasters have warned the surge could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 11 feet of ocean water, and days of downpours could unload more than 3 feet of rain, touching off severe flooding.
Meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com calculates that Hurricane Florence is forecast to dump 9.6 trillion gallons, enough rain to cover the Tar Heel state in about 10 inches of water.
The National Weather Service says 16 inches of rain has already fallen in parts of North Carolina.
Tom Collins, emergency management director in Pender County, N.C., says the woman in Hampstead had a heart attack Friday morning, but emergency crews could not get to her because of downed trees in the road. Collins says they have a front loader they’re using to clear the roads, but a tree went through the windshield of it.
In New Bern, where the Neuse and Trent rivers intersect, around 200 people were rescued after being stranded in their homes overnight, according to Mayor Dana Outlaw. Another 150, including some trapped in second floors of houses or in attics, awaited rescue.
“What happens is that we rescue some people and then we find out there are still more who need it,” Outlaw said. “People who live in New Bern have experienced hurricanes before, but it has been a long time since we have experienced something like this.”
The mayor said at least 4,200 homes and 300 businesses sustained damage from flooding.
“Things here are very, very serious,” he said. “If you’ve ever doubted the destructiveness of a hurricane, what’s happening here will make you a believer.”
Authorities advised residents who have not evacuated to go to the highest point in their homes, call 911 for help, keep their cell batteries charged as best they can and wait for help to arrive.
Hurricane Florence is not likely to weaken below hurricane strength until Saturday. The threat continues to be flooding in the Carolinas with North Carolina projected to be the hardest hit.
More than 60 people, including an infant, children and their pets, were rescued from a collapsing hotel in Jacksonville, North Carolina, at the height of the storm, according to WITN-TV.
Cinder blocks that were part of the structure crumbled in some places, and portions of the roof were missing. Police and fire teams forced their way into some rooms to free the residents, who were temporarily taken to the town’s center for public safety.
Rescuers were able to reach a flooded animal shelter in Newport, N.C., after the Carteret County Humane Society put out a call for help on Facebook. The Cajun Navy, a group of volunteers in boats, brought two stranded shelter workers, 43 dogs, 80 cats, and roughly 15 chickens to safety.
About 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians have been deployed, with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats.
“I see a biblical proportion flood event that’s going to occur,” Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous told ABC News. “I see the beach communities being inundated with water and destruction that will be pretty, pretty epic in nature.”
A mother and infant died in Wilmington, N.C. after a tree fell on their home Friday, Sept 14, 2018, during Hurricane Florence. The house was severely damaged.
Ken Ruinard, Independent Mail
National Weather Service forecasters said the storm would roam along the coast for at least two more days before reaching Columbia, South Carolina, early Sunday. It was also expected to slip briefly back into the open water during the journey.
“This storm will be a marathon vs. a sprint,” the National Weather Service said on Twitter. “In addition to the ongoing, dangerous storm surge and flash flooding, will be a long-term river flood threat WELL INLAND as very heavy rainfall continues to fall in the coming days.”‘
The NHC said Florence went ashore near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, at 7:15 a.m. EDT with estimated maximum winds of 90 mph. Shortly afterward, the National Weather Service reported wind gusts to 105 mph at Wilmington International Airport, the highest wind gust measured in Wilmington since Hurricane Helene hit the port city in 1958.
The center said the water level could hit from 7 to 10 feet from Cape Fear to Cape Lookout, North Carolina, and from 6 to 9 feet from Cape Lookout to Ocracoke Inlet.
Even with the storm raging, the Army Corps of Engineers prepared to start work to restore power, install temporary roofing and remove debris.
While thousands chose to flee the coast, others hunkered down. Gigi Charlebois, owner of the Edenton Coffee House on the northern shore of North Carolina’s Albemarle Sound, decided to stay with her family overnight in the shop’s dining room, sleeping on couches, pull-out cots and a mattress.
She said the shop, with an electric generator, was safer than their nearby home.
“It’s unsafe, a lot of trees,” Charlebois said. “So, even if it was just a tropical storm and trees went down we’d have a hard time getting here.”
Staying there also allowed her to keep an eye on their freezers and fridges holding food. Plus, they’d be there in the morning if first responders needed them.
“That’s why we opened an hour later, because we had to clean up all our bedding,” Charlebois said while standing in the dining room, which by Friday morning teemed with customers while rain poured outside.
Tracker: Follow Hurricane Florence’s path
The National Hurricane Center said the storm would move further inland across extreme southeastern North Carolina and extreme eastern South Carolina on Friday and Saturday. Florence will then move generally northward across the western Carolinas and the central Appalachian Mountains early next week.
Contributing: The Associated Press; Joey Gill; Katie Wadington; Chris Woodyard and Sean Rossman
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