Deadly Florence pours on the rain

Hun­dreds res­cued, thou­sands told to leave as rivers rise

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Allen G. Breed ASSOCIATED PRESS

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 shore­line 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 winds, Florence prac­ti­cally parked it­self over land all day long and poured on the rain. With rivers ris­ing 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 of rain had fallen in places, and the drench­ing went on and on, with fore­cast­ers say­ing there could be an ad­di­tional 1½ feet 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 east-south­east of Columbia, the South Carolina cap­i­tal, crawl­ing west at 2 mph — not even as fast as a per­son walk­ing. Its winds were down to 45 mph. 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 of a stretch of the Cape Fear River and the Lit­tle River, about 100 miles 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 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 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 nearby 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 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.

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 “heart-wrench­ing.”

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

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 81year-old man died af­ter falling and hit­ting his head while pack­ing to evac­u­ate.

Steve Helber / Associated Press

Hur­ri­cane Florence up­roots a tree and floods nearby homes in New Bern, N.C., where hun­dreds of peo­ple had to be res­cued.

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