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

The Observer - - World - Oliver Laugh­land Myr­tle Beach Adam Gab­batt Con­way, South Carolina

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.

Getty

Vol­un­teers from across North Carolina help res­cue res­i­dents and their pets from flooded homes in New Bern.

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