11 dead, nearly 1 million in the dark in Carolinas
Water rescues take priority as flooding intensifies along coasts, near rivers
WILMINGTON, N.C. – A weakened Florence slowed to a crawl over South Carolina on Saturday after leaving at least 11 people dead, and the storm’s relentless rains fueled fears of devastating inland flooding in the days ahead.
More than 2 feet of rain has fallen in some places, and flooding has led to scores of water rescues. With rivers rising to record levels, officials warned another deadly chapter of the disaster could soon unfold.
“I cannot overstate it: Floodwaters are rising, and if you aren’t watching for them, you are risking your life,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said.
Since marching ashore Friday near Wilmington as a hurricane, Florence has knocked out power to nearly 900,000 homes in the Carolinas, according to poweroutage.us.
Now, as a tropical storm, Florence is expected to dump an additional 10 to 15 inches of rain in parts of North and South Carolina; storm totals could reach 30 to 40 inches along the North Carolina coastal area south of Cape Hatteras.
As of 5 p.m. EDT, Florence was centered about 60 miles west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, inching west at 2 mph with winds down to 45 mph. With half of the storm still out over the Atlantic, Florence continued to collect warm ocean water and dump it on land.
The National Hurricane Center warned Florence will continue to produce “catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding.”
North Carolina’s Harnett County declared a mandatory evacuation Saturday along the Lower Little River, which is expected to rise to more than 17 feet above flood stage. The National Weather Service forecasts the river to reach flood stage at Manchester after 2 a.m. EDT Sunday and crest Monday morning at 35.4 feet. Flood stage is 18 feet.
Cooper said Florence could wipe out entire communities as it grinds its way across land.
“The fact is this storm is deadly, and we know we are days away from an ending,” he said.
In Washington, President Donald Trump issued a disaster declaration for North Carolina on Saturday that will make federal money available to people in eight counties, the White House said.
Government aid can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the hurricane’s effect.
About 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians have been deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats. Throughout the Carolinas, a major focus was plucking people from rising waters.
In eastern North Carolina alone, eight National Guard helicopters were in action Saturday to help with rescues.
Petty Officer Charlotte Fritts said helicopters were sent from Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City to an area near Jacksonville, North Carolina, to rescue 13 people stranded in two cars.
In New Bern, where the Neuse and Trent rivers intersect, about 200 people were rescued after being stranded in their homes, according to Mayor Dana Outlaw. Another 150, including some trapped in second floors of houses or in attics, awaited rescue.
“What happens is that we rescue some people, and then we find out there are still more who need it,” Outlaw said. “People who live in New Bern have experienced hurricanes before, but it has been a long time since we have experienced something like this.”
He said at least 4,200 homes and 300 businesses sustained damage from flooding.
“Things here are very, very serious,” the mayor said. “If you’ve ever doubted the destructiveness of a hurricane, what’s happening here will make you a believer.”
More than 60 people, including an infant, children and pets, were rescued from a collapsing hotel in Jacksonville at the height of the storm, according to WITN-TV.
In Newport, North Carolina, rescuers were able to reach a flooded animal shelter after the Carteret County Humane Society put out a call for help on Facebook. The Cajun Navy, a group of volunteers in boats, brought two stranded shelter workers, 43 dogs, 80 cats and roughly 15 chickens to safety.
Daniel J. Gross reports for the Greenville News. Contributing: Sean Rossman, USA TODAY; Associated Press
“What happens is that we rescue some people, and then we find out there are still more who need it.”
Dana Outlaw Mayor of New Bern
A car passes under a fallen tree Saturday in Lumberton, N.C.
Floodwaters inundate the Inner Banks town of Belhaven, N.C. JOHN MEORE AND TARIQ ZEHARI/USA TODAY NETWORK