Florence death toll rises to seven

Lethbridge Herald - - HEADLINE NEWS | CANADA & BEYOND - Allen G. Breed

Thou­sands of peo­ple liv­ing near North Carolina’s ris­ing rivers were or­dered evac­u­ated Satur­day as hur­ri­cane-turned-trop­i­cal storm Florence prac­ti­cally parked it­self over land and poured on the rain Satur­day, rais­ing fears that the state could be in for the most de­struc­tive flood­ing in its his­tory. The death toll climbed to at least seven. A day af­ter Florence blew ashore in North Carolina with 90 mph (145 kph) winds, Coast Guards­men, Marines and other res­cue crews used he­li­copters, boats and heavy-duty ve­hi­cles to reach scores of peo­ple trapped on rooftops or oth­er­wise caught in the flood­wa­ters.

More than two feet of rain had fallen in places, and the drench­ing went on and on, with fore­cast­ers say­ing there could be an ad­di­tional 1 1/2 feet by the end of the week­end.

Rivers and creeks rose to­ward record lev­els, threat­en­ing flash flood­ing that could dev­as­tate com­mu­ni­ties and en­dan­ger dams, roads and bridges.

“I can­not over­state it: Flood­wa­ters are ris­ing, and if you aren’t watch­ing for them you are risk­ing your life,” Gov. Roy Cooper said.

As of 2 p.m., Florence was cen­tred about 50 miles (85 kilo­me­tres) west of Myr­tle Beach, South Carolina, inch­ing west at three mph (six kph) — about as fast as a per­son walks. Its winds were down to 45 mph (75 kph). With half of the storm still out over the At­lantic, Florence con­tin­ued to col­lect warm ocean wa­ter and dump it on land.

In its ini­tial on­slaught along the coast, Florence buck­led build­ings, del­uged en­tire com­mu­ni­ties and knocked out power to more than 900,000 homes and busi­nesses. But the storm was shap­ing up as a two-part dis­as­ter, with the sec­ond, de­layed-ac­tion stage con­sist­ing of epic in­land flood­ing, caused by rain­wa­ter work­ing its way into rivers and streams.

Au­thor­i­ties or­dered the im­me­di­ate evac­u­a­tion of up to 7,500 peo­ple liv­ing within a mile of a stretch of the Cape Fear River and the Lit­tle River. The evac­u­a­tion zone in­cluded part of the city of Fayet­teville, pop­u­la­tion 200,000.

Of­fi­cials in North Carolina’s Har­nett County, about 90 miles in­land, urged res­i­dents of about 1,100 homes to clear out be­cause the Lower Lit­tle River was ris­ing to­ward record lev­els.

One po­ten­tial road out was blocked as flood­ing forced the shut­down of a 16-mile (26-kilo­me­tre) stretch of In­ter­state 95, the main high­way along the Eastern Se­aboard.

In New Bern , along the coast, homes were com­pletely sur­rounded by wa­ter, and res­cuers used in­flat­able boats to reach peo­ple. More than 360 peo­ple had been car­ried to safety since Thurs­day night.

Kevin Knox and his fam­ily were res­cued from their flooded brick home with the help of Army Sgt. Jo­han Mackie, part of a team that was us­ing a phone app to lo­cate peo­ple in dis­tress. Mackie rode in a boat through a flooded neigh­bour­hood, nav­i­gat­ing through trees and past a fen­ce­post to get to the Knox house.

“Amaz­ing. They did awe­some,” said Knox, who was stranded with seven oth­ers, in­clud­ing a boy who was car­ried out in a life vest. “If not we’d be stuck up­stairs for the next ... how long? I have no idea.”

Across the Trent River from New Bern, Jerry and Jan An­drews re­turned home af­ter evac­u­at­ing to find carp flop­ping in their back­yard near the porch stairs.

Coast Guard he­li­copters were tak­ing off across the street to res­cue stranded peo­ple. Coast Guards­men said chop­pers had made about 50 res­cues in and around New Bern and Jack­sonville as of noon.

Also, Marines res­cued about 20 civil­ians from flood­wa­ters near Camp Le­je­une, us­ing Humvees and as­sault am­phibi­ous ve­hi­cles, the base re­ported.

Along the Lum­ber River in Lum­ber­ton , work­ers used heavy ma­chin­ery to dump ex­tra sand on a railbed prone to flood­ing. Not far away, Jackie and Quin­ton Wash­ing­ton watched wa­ter fill­ing both their front and back yards near the river.

Hur­ri­cane Matthew sent more than five feet of wa­ter into their home in 2016, and the cou­ple feared Florence would run them out again.

“If it goes up to my front step, I have to get out,” Quintin Wash­ing­ton said.

The dead in­cluded a mother and baby killed when a tree fell on a house in Wilmington, North Carolina. South Carolina recorded its first death from the storm, with of­fi­cials say­ing a 61-year-old woman was killed when her car hit a tree that had fallen across a high­way.

The Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter said Florence broke a North Carolina rain­fall record that had stood for al­most 20 years: Pre­lim­i­nary re­ports showed Swans­boro got over 30 inches and count­ing, eclips­ing the mark set in 1999, when Hur­ri­cane Floyd dropped just over 24 inches on the state.

As of noon, Emer­ald Isle had over 23 inches of rain, and Wilmington and Golds­boro had about a foot. North Myr­tle Beach, South Carolina, had around 7 inches.

Stream gauges across the re­gion showed wa­ter lev­els steadily ris­ing, with forecasts call­ing for rivers to crest to­day and Mon­day at or near record lev­els.

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