Tropical Storm Florence threatens Carolinas with more rain; 11 dead
Drone footage shows extensive flooding in Belhaven, North Carolina, after Hurricane Florence. Video shot by Tariq Zehawi and John Meore.
WILMINGTON, N.C. — A weakened Florence slowed to a crawl over South Carolina on Saturday after leaving at least 11 people dead, and the storm’s relentless rains fueled fears of devastating inland flooding in the days ahead.
More than 2 feet of rain has fallen in some places, and flooding has led to scores of water rescues. With rivers rising to record levels, officials warned another deadly chapter of the disaster could soon unfold.
“I cannot overstate it: Floodwaters are rising, and if you aren’t watching for them you are risking your life,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said.
Since marching ashore Friday near Wilmington as a hurricane, Florence has knocked out power to nearly 900,000 homes in the Carolinas, according to poweroutage.us.
Now, as a tropical storm, Florence is expected to dump an additional 10 to 15 inches of rain in parts of North and South Carolina; storm totals could reach 30 to 40 inches along the North Carolina coastal area south of Cape Hatteras.
As of 5 p.m., Florence was centered about 60 miles west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, inching west at 2 mph with winds down to 45 mph. With half of the storm still out over the Atlantic, Florence continued to collect warm ocean water and dump it on land.
A neighbor who lived on the same block as a woman and infant who were killed by a falling tree, talks about what he saw and heard as Hurricane Florence pounded Wilmington, North Carolina. (Sept. 14)
The National Hurricane Center warned that Florence will continue to produce “catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding.”
North Carolina’s Harnett County declared a mandatory evacuation on Saturday along the Lower Little River, which is expected to rise to more than 17 feet above flood stage.
The National Weather Service forecasts the river to reach flood stage at Manchester after 2 a.m. ET Sunday and crest Monday morning at 35.4 feet. Flood stage is 18 feet.
Cooper called Florence an “uninvited brute” that could wipe out entire communities as it grinds its way across land. “The fact is this storm is deadly and we know we are days away from an ending,” he said.
In Washington, President Donald Trump issued a disaster declaration for North Carolina on Saturday that will make federal money available to people in the counties of Beaufort, Brunswick, Carteret, Craven, New Hanover, Onslow, Pamlico and Pender, the White House said.
Government aid can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the hurricane.
About 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians have been deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats.
Throughout the Carolinas, a major focus was plucking people from rising waters.
In eastern North Carolina alone, eight National Guard helicopters were in action Saturday to help with rescues.
Petty Officer Charlotte Fritts said helicopters were sent from Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City to an area near Jacksonville, N.C., to rescue 13 people who were stranded in two cars. There were no injuries, he said.
In New Bern, where the Neuse and Trent rivers intersect, about 200 people were rescued after being stranded in their homes, 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.
Tracker: See Florence’s projected path
“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.”
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.
In Newport, North Carolina, rescuers were able to reach a flooded animal shelter 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.
In Wilmington’s riverfront area, near where Florence made landfall on Friday, the Cape Fear River poured over its banks, flooding most of the parking lots, docks and roadways leading to Wrightsville Beach.
Trees fell on downtown streets, which also displayed broken storefront windows and damaged street signs.
In a historic neighborhood just outside of downtown, mature oaks and other large trees had fallen onto gardens, gates, roofs and parked cars.
Near Carolina Beach, outside Wilmington, the most pressing issue Saturday morning was gasoline — not the shortage of fuel, but frequent power outages shutting down the pumps.
“We heard one pump at the back of the Shell station down there had gas, but as soon as we got there it had run out,” said Robert Thomas, who lives near Carolina Beach.
At Candy’s Exxon, he was able to fill two five-gallon tanks, but minutes later, Keith and Ann Blake came up short when the power went down again.
Keith said he would be back.
“I’ve got nothing else to do so we might had well wait,” he said. “I’m thankful to be alive so you deal with the rest of it as it comes.”
Emma and Ruth Townsend fretted over what the next few days would bring without power as they stared at a flooded roadway in Vanceboro, N.C.
Emma Townsend lives down Streets Ferry Road, but she can’t get there with the road flooded up to the mailboxes. She evacuated to her mother’s home before the storm hit.
Now she’s living out of a generator-powered camper with her boyfriend and 3-year-old son.
“It’s pretty much the worst thing you can imagine,” she said. “You’re driving through here one day and the next it’s covered in water.”
Daniel J. Gross reports for The Greenville News
Contributing: Sean Rossman, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
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