Florence ‘wreak­ing havoc’

Weak­ened storm rolls ashore, trap­ping hun­dreds in high wa­ter

North Bay Nugget - - WORLD - JonaThan drEw

WILM­ING­TON, N.C. — Hur­ri­cane Florence rolled ashore in North Carolina with howl­ing 145 km/h winds and ter­ri­fy­ing storm surge early Fri­day, trap­ping hun­dreds of peo­ple in high wa­ter as it set­tled in for what could be a long and ex­traor­di­nar­ily de­struc­tive drench­ing. At least four peo­ple were killed.

More than 60 peo­ple had to be pulled from a col­laps­ing mo­tel. Hun­dreds more were res­cued else­where from ris­ing wa­ter. Oth­ers could only wait and hope some­one would come for them.

“WE ARE COM­ING TO GET YOU,” the city of New Bern tweeted around 2 a.m. “You may need to move up to the sec­ond story, or to your at­tic, but WE ARE COM­ING TO GET YOU.”

As the gi­ant, 644-km-wide hur­ri­cane pounded away, it un­loaded heavy rain, flat­tened trees, chewed up roads and knocked out power to more than 600,000 homes and busi­nesses.

A mother and baby were killed when a tree fell on a house, ac­cord­ing to Wilm­ing­ton po­lice. Also, one per­son was killed while plug­ging in a gen­er­a­tor, and a man was knocked to the ground while out­side and died, au­thor­i­ties said.

The biggest danger, as fore­cast­ers saw it, was not the wind but the wa­ter: the storm surge along the coast­line and the prospect of 305 to 1,060 mm of rain over the next sev­eral days that could trig­ger cat­a­strophic flood­ing in a slow­mo­tion dis­as­ter well in­land.

By early af­ter­noon, Florence’s winds had weak­ened to 120 km/h, just barely a hur­ri­cane and well be­low the storm’s ter­ri­fy­ing Cat­e­gory 4 peak of 225 km/h ear­lier in the week. But the hur­ri­cane had slowed to a crawl as it traced the North Carolina- South Carolina shore­line, drench­ing coastal com­mu­ni­ties for hours on end.

The town of Ori­en­tal had got­ten more than 457 mm of rain just a few hours into the del­uge, while Surf City had 355 mm and it was still com­ing down.

“Hur­ri­cane Florence is pow­er­ful, slow and re­lent­less,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said. “It’s an un­in­vited brute who doesn’t want to leave.”

Cooper said the hur­ri­cane was “wreak­ing havoc” on the coast and could wipe out en­tire com­mu­ni­ties as it makes its “vi­o­lent grind across our state for days.” He said parts of North Carolina had seen storm surges — the bulge of sea­wa­ter pushed ashore by the hur­ri­cane — as high as 3 me­tres.

Florence made land­fall as a Cat­e­gory 1 hur­ri­cane at 7:15 a.m. at Wrightsville Beach, a few kilo­me­tres east of Wilm­ing­ton, N.C., and not far from the South Carolina line, com­ing ashore along a mostly boarded-up, emp­tied-out stretch of coast­line. It was ex­pected to be­gin push­ing its way west­ward across South Carolina later in the day, in a wa­tery siege that could go on all week­end.

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 high­wa­ter 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 en­vi­ron­men­tal havoc 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 storm was blamed for nearly 3,000 deaths in the des­per­ate af­ter­math.

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

Me­te­o­rol­o­gist Ryan Maue of weath­er­mod­els.com said Florence could dump a stag­ger­ing 68 tril­lion litres of rain over a week on North Carolina, South Caroli­nas, Vir­ginia, Ge­or­gia, Ten­nessee, Ken­tucky and Mary­land. North Carolina alone is fore­cast to get 36 tril­lion litres.

On Fri­day, coastal streets in the Caroli­nas flowed with frothy ocean wa­ter, and pieces of tor­na­part build­ings flew through the air. The few cars out on a main street in Wilm­ing­ton had to swerve to avoid fallen trees, me­tal de­bris and power lines. Traf­fic lights out of or­der be­cause of power fail­ures swayed in the gusty wind. Roof shin­gles were peeled off a ho­tel.

Air­lines can­celled more than 2,100 flights through Sun­day.

Chip so­Mod­Ev­illa/Getty im­aGes

Res­cue work­ers and vol­un­teers from the Civil­ian Cri­sis Re­sponse Team help res­cue a woman and her dog from their flooded home dur­ing hur­ri­cane Florence in James City, N.C., on Fri­day.

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