Florence lays siege to Caroli­nas

At least 4 dead as storm starts slow-mov­ing rain as­sault

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY JONATHAN DREW As­so­ci­ated Press

Wilm­ing­ton, N.C. — Blow­ing ashore with howl­ing 90 mph winds, Florence splin­tered build­ings, trapped hun­dreds of peo­ple and swamped en­tire com­mu­ni­ties along the Carolina coast Fri­day in what could be just the open­ing act in a wa­tery, two-part, slow-mo­tion dis­as­ter. At least four peo­ple were killed.

Fore­cast­ers warned that drench­ing rains of 1 to 3½ feet as the hur­ri­cane-turned-trop­i­cal storm crawls west­ward across North and South Carolina could trig­ger epic flood­ing well in­land over the next few days.

As 400-mile-wide Florence pounded away at the coast with tor­ren­tial down­pours and surg­ing seas, res­cue crews used boats to reach more than 360 peo­ple be­sieged by ris­ing wa­ters in New Bern, while many of their neigh­bors awaited help. More than 60 peo­ple had to be res­cued in an­other town as a cin­derblock mo­tel col­lapsed at the height of the storm’s fury.

Florence flat­tened trees, crum­bled roads and the as­sault wasn’t any­where close to be­ing over, with the siege in the Caroli­nas ex­pected to last all week­end. The storm knocked out power to more than 890,000 homes and busi­nesses, ac­cord­ing to power­outage.us, which tracks the U.S. elec­tri­cal grid.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper called Florence an “un­in­vited brute” that could wipe out en­tire com­mu­ni­ties as it grinds across the state.

“The fact is this storm is deadly and we know we are days away from an end­ing,” Cooper said. Parts of North Carolina had seen storm surges — the bulge of sea­wa­ter pushed ashore by the hur­ri­cane — as high as 10 feet, he said.

A mother and baby were killed when a tree fell on a

house, ac­cord­ing to a tweet from Wilm­ing­ton po­lice. Also, a 77-year-old man was ap­par­ently knocked down by the wind and died af­ter go­ing out to check on his hunt­ing dogs, Lenoir County au­thor­i­ties said, and the gov­er­nor’s of­fice said a man was elec­tro­cuted while try­ing to con­nect ex­ten­sion cords in the rain.

Shaken af­ter see­ing waves crash­ing on the Neuse River just out­side his house in New Bern, restau­rant owner and hur­ri­cane vet­eran Tom Bal­lance wished he had evac­u­ated.

“I feel like the dumb­est hu­man be­ing who ever walked the face of the earth,” he said.

Af­ter reach­ing a ter­ri­fy­ing Cat­e­gory 4 peak of 140 mph ear­lier in the week, Florence made land­fall as a Cat­e­gory 1 hur­ri­cane at 7:15 a.m. at Wrightsville Beach, a few miles east of Wilm­ing­ton and not far from the South Carolina line. It came ashore along a mostly board­edup, emp­tied-out stretch of coast­line.

By Fri­day evening, Florence was down­graded to a trop­i­cal storm, its winds weak­ened to 70 mph as it moved for­ward at 3 mph about 15 miles north of Myr­tle Beach, South Carolina.

But it was clear that this was re­ally about the wa­ter, not the wind. Sev­eral places al­ready had more than 16 inches of rain, and Ori­en­tal, North Carolina got more than 20 inches in just a few hours.

Florence’s for­ward move­ment dur­ing the day slowed to a near-stand­still — some­times it was go­ing no faster than a hu­man can walk — and that en­abled it to pile on the rain.

The flood­ing soon spread into South Carolina, swamp­ing places like North Myr­tle Beach, in a re­sort area known for its white sands and mul­ti­tude of golf cour­ses.

For peo­ple liv­ing in­land in the Caroli­nas, the mo­ment of max­i­mum peril from flash flood­ing could ar­rive days later, be­cause it takes time for rain­wa­ter to drain into rivers and for those streams to crest.

Pre­par­ing for the worst, about 9,700 Na­tional Guard troops and civil­ians were de­ployed with high-wa­ter ve­hi­cles, he­li­copters and boats.

Au­thor­i­ties warned, too, of the threat of mud­slides and the risk of an en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter from flood­wa­ters wash­ing over in­dus­trial waste sites and hog farms.

Florence was seen as a ma­jor test for the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency, which was heav­ily crit­i­cized as slow and un­pre­pared last year for Hur­ri­cane Maria in Puerto Rico, where the death toll was put at nearly 3,000.

The Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter said Florence will even­tu­ally break up over the south­ern Ap­palachi­ans and make a right hook to the north­east, its rainy rem­nants mov­ing into the mid-At­lantic states and New Eng­land by the mid­dle of next week.

Me­te­o­rol­o­gist Ryan Maue of weath­er­mod­els.com said Florence could dump a stag­ger­ing 18 tril­lion gal­lons of rain over a week on North Carolina, South Carolina, Vir­ginia, Ge­or­gia, Ten­nessee, Ken­tucky and Mary­land. That’s enough to fill the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay or cover the en­tire state of Texas with nearly 4 inches of wa­ter, he cal­cu­lated.

North Carolina alone is fore­cast to get 9.6 tril­lion gal­lons, enough to cover the Tar Heel state to a depth of about 10 inches.

On Fri­day, coastal streets in the Caroli­nas flowed with frothy ocean wa­ter, and pieces of torn-apart build­ings flew through the air. The few cars out on a main street in Wilm­ing­ton had to swerve to avoid fallen trees, me­tal de­bris and power lines.

A wind gust at the Wilm­ing­ton air­port was clocked at 105 mph, the high­est since Hur­ri­cane He­lene in 1958. Nationwide, air­lines can­celed over 2,400 flights through Sun­day.

In New Bern, pop­u­la­tion 29,000, flood­ing on the Neuse River left 500 peo­ple in peril.

“You may need to move up to the sec­ond story, or to your at­tic, but WE ARE COM­ING TO GET YOU,” the city tweeted around 2 a.m.

Boat teams in­clud­ing vol­un­teers res­cued some 360 res­i­dents, in­clud­ing Sadie Marie Holt, 67, who first tried to row out of her neigh­bor­hood dur­ing Florence’s as­sault.

“The wind was so hard, the wa­ters were so hard, that try­ing to get out we got thrown into trail­ers. We got thrown into mail­boxes, houses, trees,” said Holt, who had stayed at home be­cause of a doc­tor’s ap­point­ment that was later can­celed. She re­treated and was even­tu­ally res­cued by a boat crew; 140 more awaited as­sis­tance.

Ash­ley War­ren and boyfriend Chris Smith man­aged to pad­dle away from their home in a boat with their two dogs, and the ex­pe­ri­ence left her shaken.

“Hon­estly, I grew up in Wilm­ing­ton. I love hur­ri­canes. But this one has been an ex­pe­ri­ence for me,” she said. “We might leave.”

Tom Copeland / AP

High winds and wa­ter bat­ters down­town Swans­boro North Carolina on Fri­day.

Chuck Bur­ton / AP

Florence rat­tled build­ings and top­pled trees, one land­ing on a home in Wilm­ing­ton, North Carolina.

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