Four dead as Florence drenches the Caroli­nas

Lethbridge Herald - - HEADLINE NEWS - Jonathan Drew

Blow­ing ashore with howl­ing 90 mph winds, Hur­ri­cane Florence splin­tered build­ings, trapped hun­dreds of people and swamped en­tire com­mu­ni­ties along the Carolina coast Fri­day in what could be just the open­ing act in a wa­tery, twopart, slow-mo­tion dis­as­ter. At least four people were killed.

Fore­cast­ers warned that drench­ing rains of any­where from 1 to 3 1/2 feet as the storm crawls west­ward across North and South Carolina could trig­ger epic flood­ing well in­land over the next few days.

As 400-mile-wide Florence pounded away at the coast with tor­ren­tial down­pours and surg­ing seas, res­cue crews used boats to reach scores of people be­sieged by ris­ing wa­ters along a river. More than 60 oth­ers had to be res­cued as a cin­derblock mo­tel col­lapsed.

Florence flat­tened trees, crum­bled roads and knocked out power to three­quar­ters of a mil­lion homes and busi­nesses, and the as­sault wasn’t any­where close to be­ing over, with the siege in the Caroli­nas ex­pected to last all week­end.

“It’s an un­in­vited brute who doesn’t want to leave,” said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper.

The hur­ri­cane was “wreak­ing havoc” and could wipe out en­tire com­mu­ni­ties as it makes its “vi­o­lent grind across our state for days,” the gov­er­nor said. He said parts of North Carolina had seen storm surges — the bulge of sea­wa­ter pushed ashore by the hur­ri­cane — as high as 10 feet.

A mother and baby were killed when a tree fell on a house, ac­cord­ing to a tweet from Wilm­ing­ton po­lice. Also, a 77-yearold man was ap­par­ently knocked down by the wind and died after go­ing out to check on his hunt­ing dogs, and a man was elec­tro­cuted while try­ing to con­nect ex­ten­sion cords in the rain, au­thor­i­ties said.

Shaken after see­ing waves crash­ing on the Neuse River just out­side his house in the town of New Bern, restau­rant owner and hur­ri­cane vet­eran Tom Bal­lance wished he had evac­u­ated.

“I feel like the dumb­est hu­man be­ing who ever walked the face of the Earth,” he said.

After reach­ing a ter­ri­fy­ing Cat­e­gory 4 peak of 140 mph ear­lier in the week, Florence made land­fall as a Cat­e­gory 1 hur­ri­cane at 7:15 a.m. at Wrightsville Beach, a few miles east of Wilm­ing­ton and not far from the South Carolina line, com­ing ashore along a mostly board­edup, emp­tied-out stretch of coast­line.

By Fri­day evening, Florence was down­graded to a trop­i­cal storm, its winds weak­en­ing to 70 mph as it pushed in­land. But it was clear that this was re­ally about the wa­ter, not the wind.

Florence’s for­ward move­ment dur­ing the day slowed to a crawl — some­times it was mov­ing no faster than a hu­man can walk — and that en­abled it to pile on the rain. The town of Ori­en­tal, North Carolina, got more than 20 inches of rain just a few hours into the del­uge. Oth­ers got well over a foot.

For people liv­ing in­land in the Caroli­nas, the mo­ment of max­i­mum peril from flash flood­ing could ar­rive days later, be­cause it takes time for rain­wa­ter to drain into rivers and for those streams to crest.

Pre­par­ing for the worst, about 9,700 Na­tional Guard troops and civil­ians were de­ployed with high-wa­ter ve­hi­cles, heli­copters and boats that could be used to pluck people from the flood­wa­ters.

Au­thor­i­ties warned, too, of the threat of mud­slides and the risk of an en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter from flood­wa­ters wash­ing over in­dus­trial waste sites and hog farms.

Florence was seen as a ma­jor test for the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency, which was heav­ily crit­i­cized as slow and un­pre­pared last year for Hur­ri­cane Maria in Puerto Rico, where the death toll was put at nearly 3,000.

The Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter said Florence will even­tu­ally break up over the south­ern Ap­palachi­ans and make a right hook to the north­east, its rainy rem­nants mov­ing into the mid-At­lantic states and New Eng­land by the mid­dle of next week.

Me­te­o­rol­o­gist Ryan Maue of weath­er­mod­els.com said Florence could dump a stag­ger­ing 18 tril­lion gal­lons of rain over a week on North Carolina, South Caroli­nas, Vir­ginia, Ge­or­gia, Ten­nessee, Ken­tucky and Mary­land. That’s enough to fill the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay or cover the en­tire state of Texas with nearly four inches (10 cen­time­tres) of wa­ter, he cal­cu­lated.

North Carolina alone is fore­cast to get 9.6 tril­lion gal­lons, enough to cover the Tar Heel state to a depth of about 10 inches (25 cen­time­tres).

As­so­ci­ated Press photo

Res­cue team mem­ber Sgt. Nick Muhar, from the North Carolina Na­tional Guard 1/120th bat­tal­ion, evac­u­ates a young child as the ris­ing flood­wa­ters from Hur­ri­cane Florence threat­ens his home in New Bern, N.C., on Fri­day.

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