Storm threat not over as ‘epic’ rain falls
NEW BERN: Authorities warned residents displaced by a killer hurricane yesterday that its devastation was far from over, as Florence dumped “epic amounts of rainfall” across the southeastern US, bringing catastrophic flooding and up to 13 deaths.
As of 11pm on Saturday (1pm yesterday AEST), maximum sustained winds had weakened to near 64km/h, but the National Hurricane Centre continued to warn of “catastrophic” flooding.
Most of the fatalities occurred in North Carolina, where officials confirmed eight victims. They included three who died “due to flash flooding and swift water on roadways”, the Duplin County Sheriff’s Office reported.
A woman and her baby were among the first casualties, when a tree fell on their house, contributing to a death toll that US media said had reached 13 — 10 in North Carolina and three in South Carolina, according to CNN.
Florence made landfall on Friday as a category-one hurricane but has since been downgraded to a tropical storm, even as it continued to wreak havoc along the east coast, downing trees and power lines and forcing 20,000 people to flee. Yesterday some residents tried to return home, driving through flooded highways and armed with chainsaws to clear fallen trees covering the road.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned against such behaviour as roads became increasingly dangerous.
“All roads in the state right now are at risk of floods,” he said.
“As rivers keep rising and rain keeps falling, the flooding will spread. More and more inland counties are issuing mandatory evacuations to get people to safety quickly.”
He earlier said the storm system “is unloading epic amounts of rainfall: in some places, measured in feet, not inches”.
In a separate briefing, Steve Goldstein of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said some areas had already received 600mm of rain and could expect up to 500mm more as the system moved “slowly, nearly stationary” over eastern North Carolina.
In New Bern, a riverfront city near the North Carolina coast that saw storm surges of up to 3m, residents took stock of the damage after flood waters began receding and authorities rescued hundreds of people who had been stranded.
Charles Rucker, a retired teacher, had only spent five nights in his newly purchased house, built in 1830, when Florence struck.
“It was like a bullet train coming through the living room. Nothing I ever experienced before, I was truly scared,” he said.
Mayor Dana Outlaw told CNN: “We have 4200 damaged homes.”
The doors of many homes suffered so much wind damage they appeared to have been kicked in, while the city’s beloved fibreglass bear statues, which are sponsored by local businesses, were floating down streets.
The White House said Donald Trump would visit hurricane-hit areas this week “once it is determined his travel will not disrupt any rescue or recovery efforts”.
More than 800,000 homes in North Carolina were without power and 21,000 people were being housed in 157 shelters across the state.
The military was deploying nearly 200 soldiers to assist in storm-related response and recovery efforts, along with 100 trucks and equipment.
Besides federal and state emergency crews, rescuers were being helped by volunteers from the “Cajun Navy” — civilians with light boats, canoes and air mattresses — who also turned up in Houston during Hurricane Harvey to carry out water rescues.
Florence made landfall in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, after stalking the coastline for days.
A ‘swift water rescue crew’ patrols New Bern yesterday