East coast battles ‘the uninvited brute who doesn’t want to leave’
Residents braced for days of chaos as tropical storm Florence works its way through river network and power supplies collapse
Tropical storm Florence moved slowly down the Carolina coast yesterday as officials forecast catastrophic flooding in the region and said at least five people had been killed by the giant weather system that is predicted to plague the area for days.
The storm battered the coastline with hurricane-force winds and dumped up to two feet of rain in some areas of North Carolina. With many areas already inundated by seawater, forecasts warned of extensive flooding around the region’s winding network of rivers and creeks.
North Carolina’s governor, Roy Cooper, called the storm “an uninvited brute who doesn’t want to leave”. He added, with reference to Florence’s glacial speed: “We know we’re in for a long haul here. But I think we’re ready.”
The White House declared a major disaster in the state, with President Trump likely to visit storm-affected areas this week.
In New Bern, a city that backs on to the Neuse river in North Carolina, rescue operations continued as significant flooding destroyed homes and some of the city’s colonial-era statmother ues. More than 360 people were rescued by crews in boats, some flown in from New York and other areas of the US. Florence had already knocked out power to close to a million households in the Carolinas, with some areas not expecting to see supplies restored for days.
As the storm hovered around eight miles north of Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, residents in the city of Conway, a few miles from the storm’s eye, worried that the Waccamaw river, which surrounds the city, would soon burst its banks. A normally tranquil stream known as Crab Tree swamp was flowing fast and was just a foot from engulfing a bridge that provides north-south access to Conway.
David Hudson, a 29-year-old road construction worker who lives in Conway, had stopped his car on the bridge to video the water. “I’m surprised this is that high,” Hudson said. “There’s usually walking trails down here. They’re underwater now. In about four days when all the water comes down from North Carolina, we’re going to have a problem.”
In downtown Myrtle Beach fronds from palm trees lined the main street, while on the waterfront the wind was blowing hard along the sand, whipping it into the air. The water was a heavy, foaming swell, crashing against the columns of the deserted Second Avenue Pier.
Few people ventured out – most heeding warnings from officials to stay inside – but Aaron Lucas, a 38-year-old photographer and Uber driver, was standing on the beach with his camera. “You want to see what’s going on, what all the fuss is about,” Lucas said. “There’s nothing like staring down mother nature.”
In the historic port city of Wilmington, North Carolina, a and her baby died on Friday when a tree fell on their house. The deaths were the first recorded fatalities. A 77-year-old man died after he was knocked over by wind after going outside to check on his dogs. Another man was electrocuted in the rainfall.
Many people in Wilmington emerged from their homes for the first time yesterday to scenes of fallen trees and powerlines. Some residents here worried less about flooding and more about an extensive period without power. Sidney Este, whose 71-year-old mother was still inside, said: “I’m mostly concerned about the house getting hotter and hotter.”
Meteorologists warn that the town will see more flooding as rainwater from inland courses down through the area’s rivers.
Florence is the first major test of the Trump administration’s response to a major natural disaster since Hurricane Maria pounded the US territory of Puerto Rico in 2017.
Maria caused nearly 3,000 deaths amid widespread criticism of the federal government’s stalled response to the disaster. Last week Trump falsely accused his political rivals of exaggerating the death toll from Maria as he dismissed criticism of his administration’s recovery efforts.
Volunteers from across North Carolina help rescue residents and their pets from flooded homes in New Bern.