Four people killed as Florence floods Carolinas
Casualties include mother and baby, even as National Hurricane Center downgraded it to a tropical storm
Florence crashed into the Carolina coast on Friday, felling trees, dumping about 90 centimetres of rain on some spots and leading to the death of four people before it was downgraded to a tropical storm still capable of wreaking havoc.
The storm’s first casualties included a mother and her baby, who died when a tree fell on their brick house in Wilmington, N.C. The child’s father was injured and taken to a hospital.
In Pender County, N.C., a woman suffered a fatal heart attack; paramedics trying to reach her were blocked by debris. A fourth victim was killed in Lenoir County while plugging in a generator, according to the Governor’s office.
“To those in the storm’s path, if you can hear me, please stay sheltered in place,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said at a news conference in Raleigh, adding that Florence would “continue its violent grind across the state for days.”
Florence had been a Category 3 hurricane with 180-kilometre-anhour winds on Thursday, but dropped to Category 1 before coming ashore.
After landfall, Florence slowed to a pace that would see the system likely lingering for days. The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) downgraded it to a tropical storm but said life-threatening storm surges and catastrophic freshwater flooding were expected over portions of North and South Carolina.
The storm surge, water pushed by a storm over land that would normally be dry, “overwhelmed” the town of New Bern at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers, Mr. Cooper said.
Parts of North and South Carolina were forecast to get as much as one metre of rain.
More than 60 people, including many children, were evacuated from a hotel in Jacksonville, N.C., after strong winds caused parts of the roof to collapse. Many of the evacuees had pets with them.
Maysie Baumgardner, 7, sheltered with her family at the Hotel Ballast in downtown Wilmington as Florence’s floodwaters filled the streets. “I’m a little bit scared right now,” she said, “but I have my iPad and I’m watching Netflix.”
Mr. Cooper said Florence was expected to cover almost all of North Carolina in several feet of water.
As of Friday morning, Atlantic Beach, a town on the state’s Outer Banks barrier islands, had received 76 cm of rain, the U.S. Geological Service said.
About 51 cm were reported by early Friday afternoon in the town of Oriental.
The centre of the hurricane’s eye came ashore at about 7:15 a.m. Eastern near Wrightsville Beach close to Wilmington, with sustained winds of 150 km/h, the NHC said.
By late afternoon, the centre of the storm was about 32 km northeast of Myrtle Beach, S.C,, with maximum sustained winds of 100 km/h.
Authorities in New Bern, a town of about 30,000 people that dates to the early 18th century, said more than 100 people had to be rescued from floods. The downtown area was underwater.
Calls for help multiplied as the wind picked up and tide rolled in, city public information officer Colleen Roberts said.
“These are folks who decided to stay and ride out the storm for whatever reason, despite having a mandatory evacuation,” she said. “These are folks who are maybe in one-story buildings and they’re seeing the floodwaters rise.”
Video taken in several towns in the Carolinas showed emergency personnel wading through thighhigh water.
The White House said on Friday President Donald Trump would travel to the region next week unless his visit would disrupt cleanup and rescue efforts.
Mr. Cooper said the state would arrange a visit by Mr. Trump “at an appropriate time.”
A tree crashed into Kevin DiLoreto’s home in Wilmington, where all roads leading to his neighbourhood were blocked by fallen trees. “It’s insane,” he said by telephone. “I’ve never seen tree devastation this bad.
“Afterwards, I’m going to drink a bottle of whiskey and take a two-day nap, but right now I’m walking the neighbourhood making sure my neighbors are fine because nobody can get in here.”
More than 722,000 homes and businesses were without power in the Carolinas early on Friday, utility officials said. Utility companies said millions were expected to lose power and restoration could take weeks.
The storm was expected to move across parts of southeastern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina on Friday and Saturday, then head north over the western Carolinas and central Appalachian Mountains early next week, the NHC said. Significant weakening was expected over the weekend.
About 10 million people could be affected by the storm.
Florence was one of two major storms threatening millions of people on opposite sides of the world. Super Typhoon Mangkhut was expected to hit an area in the Philippines on Saturday that would affect 5.2 million people.
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 environmental havoc from floodwaters washing over industrial waste sites and hog farms.
Florence was seen as a major test for the U.S. 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 NHC 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 18 trillion gallons of rain over a week on North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Maryland. That’s enough to fill the Chesapeake Bay or cover the entire state of Texas with nearly 10 cm of water, he calculated.
Volunteers help rescue residents from their flooded homes in New Bern, N.C., on Friday as Florence wreaks havoc across the Carolinas. The storm could linger for days.