‘This is like a Biblical flood – epic in nature’
Millions told to evacuate as Hurricane Florence hits North Carolina, leading to widespread devastation
AT LEAST four people, including a mother and her baby, were confirmed dead last night as Hurricane Florence brought a “biblical” deluge to the US east coast.
The woman and infant died when a tree fell on their house in Wilmington, North Carolina, police said. The baby’s father was taken to hospital.
Elsewhere in the storm-ravaged state a man died plugging in a power cord and a woman died from a heart attack after rescuers were unable to reach her home past downed trees.
Last night the 400-mile wide storm had knocked out power to half a million homes and businesses, and left many people stranded in their flooded homes.
The eye of the hurricane made landfall at Wrightsville Beach, just outside Wilmington, on Friday morning, with winds of over 100mph, then stalled and began crawling inland at just 3mph.
It was expected to drop eight months’ worth of rain in just a few days on North Carolina as residents prepared for a deluge some were calling “the great soak”.
A total of 10 trillion gallons – the equivalent of 15 million Olympic-sized swimming pools – was expected to fall on North Carolina alone. Around 18 trillion gallons was predicted to fall on the whole US east coast.
Roy Cooper, North Carolina’s governor, said it was a “thousand-year rain event” that would “continue its violent grind for days”. He added: “We’re deeply concerned for whole communities which could be wiped away.”
Ralph Evangelous, the Wilmington police chief, added: “I see a Biblical proportion flood event, pretty epic in nature.” Some 1.7 million people had been told to evacuate but many stayed. Around 20,000 took refuge in shelters at schools, others moved into hotels.
In the town of Jacksonville, North Carolina 70 people, including families with pets, were rescued after The Triangle Motor Inn motel began crumbling and parts of its roof came off.
At the Carolinian Inn in Wilmington owner Laxman Odedra, 65, a British citizen who moved from Berkshire 23 years ago, surveyed the impact on his motel. The floor-to-ceiling window in the lobby was blown out and a 40ft pine tree toppled with a crash during the night, trapping cars in the car park.
“We don’t know what the eventual damage is yet – it’s still going on,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
Tim Samples, 32, fled his home two blocks away, along with his wife and three daughters, to shelter at the Carolinian Inn. “This is the worst storm I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I don’t know if my house is OK. I can’t get back there at the moment. Fingers crossed.”
Streets in Wilmington, which usually has a population of 100,000, were deserted. Its suburban areas became a maze of roads blocked by fallen trees and downed power lines.
One tree fell on Kevin Diloreto’s home. “It’s insane. I’ve never seen tree devastation this bad,” he said.
The town of New Bern, 90 miles up the coast from Wilmington, saw its centre submerged as the River Neuse burst its banks. Residents rescued 350 neighbours using boats but many more were still stranded.
In a tweet New Bern officials told those stranded to “move up to the second floor, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU”.
George Zaytoun, one of those who had decided not to evacuate New Bern, said: “It’s like a bomb has gone off. Everything around us is underwater.”
Some 9,700 members of the National Guard have been deployed to the area with helicopters and boats.
In Wilmington some of those who did not evacuate said they had not believed the warnings. On Thursday night several dozen of them gathered in the Barbary Coast, the only bar to stay open, on the banks of the Cape Fear River.
“About 70 per cent of people I know evacuated,” said patron Tom Bruin, 32, as a television broadcast dire warnings.
“I’m not sure I believe the hype. We’ll see.”
‘It’s a thousandyear rain event. We’re deeply concerned for whole communities which could be wiped away’
A volunteer from the Civilian Crisis Response Team rescues a child in James City, above, the house where a woman and her baby were killed by a falling tree in Wilmington, right, and flood waters cutting off a house in Swansboro, right