Florence pours on the rain amid fears of cat­a­strophic floods

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NATION+WORLD - By Allen G. Breed

NEW BERN, N.C. » The Marines, the Coast Guard, civil­ian crews and vol­un­teers used he­li­copters, boats and heavy-duty ve­hi­cles Satur­day to res­cue hun­dreds of peo­ple trapped by Florence’s on­slaught, even as North Carolina braced for what could be the next stage of the dis­as­ter: wide­spread, cat­a­strophic flood­ing in­land.

The death toll from the hur­ri­cane-turned-trop­i­cal storm climbed to 11.

A day af­ter blow­ing ashore with 90 mph (145 kph) winds, Florence prac­ti­cally parked it­self over land all day long and poured on the rain. With rivers swelling to­ward record lev­els, thou­sands of peo­ple were or­dered to evac­u­ate for fear the next few days could bring the most de­struc­tive round of flood­ing in North Carolina his­tory.

More than 2 feet (60 cen­time­ters) of rain had fallen in places, and the drench­ing went on and on, with fore­cast­ers say­ing there could be an ad­di­tional 1½ feet (45 cen­time­ters) by the end of the week­end.

“I can­not over­state it: Flood­wa­ters are ris­ing, and if you aren’t watch­ing for them, you are risk­ing your life,” Gov. Roy Cooper said.

As of 8 p.m., Florence was cen­tered about 65 miles (100 kilo­me­ters) east-south­east of Columbia, the South Carolina cap­i­tal, crawl­ing west at 2 mph (4 kph) — not even as fast as a per­son walk­ing. Its winds were down to 45 mph (75 kph). But with half of the storm still out over the At­lantic, Florence con­tin­ued to col­lect warm ocean wa­ter and dump it on land.

In its ini­tial on­slaught along the coast, Florence buck­led build­ings, del­uged en­tire com­mu­ni­ties and knocked out power to more than 900,000 homes and busi­nesses. But the storm was shap­ing up as a two-part dis­as­ter, with the sec­ond, de­layed stage trig­gered by rain­wa­ter work­ing its way into rivers and streams. The flash flood­ing could dev­as­tate com­mu­ni­ties and en­dan­ger dams, roads and bridges.

Au­thor­i­ties or­dered the im­me­di­ate evac­u­a­tion of up to 7,500 peo­ple liv­ing within a mile (1.6 kilo­me­ters) of a stretch of the Cape Fear River and the Lit­tle River, about 100 miles (160 kilo­me­ters) from the coast. The evac­u­a­tion zone in­cluded part of the city of Fayet­teville, pop­u­la­tion 200,000.

And on Satur­day evening, Duke En­ergy dis­closed that heavy rains had caused a slope to col­lapse at a coal ash land­fill at a closed power sta­tion out­side Wilmington, North Carolina. Duke spokes­woman Paige Shee­han said about 2,000 cu­bic yards (1,530 cu­bic me­ters) of ash were dis­placed at the Sut­ton Plant and that con­tam­i­nated storm wa­ter likely flowed into the plant’s cool­ing pond.

The com­pany hasn’t yet de­ter­mined i whether any con­tam­i­na­tion may have flowed into the Cape Fear River. Sut­ton was re­tired in 2013 and the com­pany has been ex­ca­vat­ing ash to re­move to safer lined land­fills. The gray ash left be­hind when coal is burned con­tains toxic heavy met­als, in­clud­ing lead and ar­senic.

Else­where, of­fi­cials in Har­nett County urged res­i­dents of about 1,100 homes to clear out be­cause the Lower Lit­tle River was ris­ing to­ward record lev­els.

One po­ten­tial road out was blocked as flood­ing forced the shut­down of a 16-mile (26-kilome­ter) stretch of In­ter­state 95, the main high­way along the Eastern Se­aboard.

In New Bern , along the coast, homes were com­pletely sur­rounded by wa­ter, and res­cuers used in­flat­able boats to reach peo­ple.

Kevin Knox and his fam­ily were res­cued from their flooded brick home with the help of Army Sgt. Jo­han Mackie, part of a team us­ing a phone app to lo­cate peo­ple in dis­tress. Mackie rode in a boat through a flooded neigh­bor­hood, nav­i­gat­ing through trees and past a fen­ce­post to get to the Knox house.

“Amaz­ing. They did awe­some,” said Knox, who was stranded with seven oth­ers, in­clud­ing a boy who was car­ried out in a life vest. “If not, we’d be stuck up­stairs for the next ... how long? I have no idea.”

New Bern spokes­woman Colleen Roberts said 455 peo­ple in all were res­cued in the town of 30,000 res­i­dents with­out any se­ri­ous in­juries or deaths. But thou­sands of build­ings were dam­aged in de­struc­tion Roberts called “heartwrench­ing.”

Across the Trent River from New Bern, Jerry and Jan An­drews re­turned home af­ter evac­u­at­ing to find carp flop­ping in their back­yard near the porch stairs.

Coast Guard he­li­copters were tak­ing off across the street to res­cue stranded peo­ple from rooftops and swamped cars. Coast Guard mem­bers said chop­pers had made about 50 res­cues in and around New Bern and Jack­sonville as of noon.

Marines res­cued about 20 civil­ians from floodwa-

ters near Camp Le­je­une, us­ing Humvees and am­phibi­ous as­sault ve­hi­cles, the base re­ported.

In Lum­ber­ton, about 80 miles (130 kilo­me­ters) in­land, Jackie and Quin­ton Wash­ing­ton watched wa­ter fill­ing both their front and back yards near the Lum­ber River . Hur­ri­cane Matthew sent more than 5 feet (1.5 me­ters) of wa­ter into their home in 2016, and the cou­ple feared Florence would run them out again.

“If it goes up to my front step, I have to get out,” Quin­ton Wash­ing­ton said.

The dead in­cluded a mother and baby killed when a tree fell on a house in Wilmington, North Carolina. South Carolina recorded its first death from the storm, with of­fi­cials say­ing a 61-year-old woman was killed when her car hit a tree that had fallen across a high­way.

Three died in one in­land county, Du­plin, be­cause of wa­ter on roads and flash floods, the sher­iff’s of­fice said. A hus­band and wife died in a house fire linked to the storm, of­fi­cials said, and an 81-year-old man died af­ter fall­ing and hit­ting his head while pack­ing to evac­u­ate.

In Wash­ing­ton, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump was briefed by tele­phone Satur­day on Florence’s im­pact. The White House re­leased a pho­to­graph show­ing Trump seated at a desk with a phone to his ear and Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence stand­ing nearby. Later, Trump tweeted his con­do­lences, writ­ing, “Deep­est sym­pa­thies and warmth go out to the fam­i­lies and friends of the vic­tims. May God be with them!”

Re­tired Ma­rine Gar­land King and his wife, Kather­ine, evac­u­ated their home in New Bern on Fri­day and re­turned Satur­day, shar­ing a kiss and join­ing hands as they drew near their house.

“It was tough. Wob­bling. I was look­ing for wa­ter moc­casins to hit me at any time,” he said.

They fi­nally made it, and found a soggy, stink­ing mess.

“The car­pets. The floors. Ev­ery­thing is soak­ing wet,” Kather­ine King said. “We’re go­ing to have to redo the whole in­side.”

The Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter said Florence broke a North Carolina rain­fall record that had stood for al­most 20 years: Pre­lim­i­nary re­ports showed Swans­boro got more than 30 inches (75 cen­time­ters) and count­ing, oblit­er­at­ing the mark set in 1999, when Hur­ri­cane Floyd dropped just over 24 inches (60 cen­time­ters) on the state.

As of noon, Emer­ald Isle had more than 23 inches (58 cen­time­ters) of rain, and Wilmington and Golds­boro had about a foot (30 cen­time­ters). North Myr­tle Beach, South Carolina, had around 7 inches (18 cen­time­ters).

Stream gauges across the re­gion showed wa­ter lev­els ris­ing steadily, with forecasts call­ing for rivers to crest Sun­day and Mon­day at or near record lev­els. The Lit­tle River, the Cape Fear, the Lum­ber, the Neuse, the Wac­ca­maw and the Pee Dee were all pro­jected to rise over their banks, flood­ing cities and towns.

Fore­cast­ers said the storm will even­tu­ally break up over the south­ern Ap­palachi­ans and make a sharp right­ward swing to the north­east, its rainy rem­nants mov­ing into the mid-At­lantic states and New Eng­land by the mid­dle of the week. AP writ­ers Jonathan Drew in Wilmington; Jef­frey Collins in Fork, South Carolina; Emery P. Dale­sio in New Bern; Denise Lavoie and Sarah Rankin in Rich­mond, Vir­ginia; Gary Robert­son in Raleigh, North Carolina; Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina; Seth Borenstein and Michael Biesecker in Wash­ing­ton; Martha Wag­goner in Raleigh, North Carolina; Jennifer Kay in Mi­ami; Russ Bynum in Columbia, South Carolina; Pete Iacobelli in Clem­son, South Carolina, and Jay Reeves in At­lanta con­trib­uted to this re­port.

STEVE HELBER — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Flood wa­ters from hur­ri­cane Florence in­un­date the town of En­gel­hard, N.C., Satur­day.

STEVE HELBER — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Houses are sur­rounded by wa­ter from Florence, now a trop­i­cal storm, in New Bern, N.C., Satur­day.

STEVE HELBER — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A sail­boat is shoved up against a house and a col­lapsed garage Satur­day af­ter heavy wind and rain from Florence, now a trop­i­cal storm, blew through New Bern, N.C.

STEVE HELBER — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ocean­front homes sit over rough surf from trop­i­cal storm Florence in Ro­dan­the N.C., Satur­day.

GRAY WHIT­LEY/SUN JOUR­NAL VIA AP

A boat rests in front of a dam­aged home from trop­i­cal storm Florence in New Bern, N.C., Satur­day.

TOM COPELAND — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A mem­ber of the U.S. Coast Guard walks down Mill Creek Road check­ing houses af­ter trop­i­cal storm Florence hit New­port N.C., Satur­day. A day af­ter blow­ing ashore with 90 mph (145 kph) winds, Florence prac­ti­cally parked it­self over land all day long and poured on the rain.

STEVE HELBER — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Res­cue per­son­nel use a small boat as they go house to house check­ing for flood vic­tims from Florence, in New Bern, N.C., Satur­day.

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