Hurricane Florence drenches the Carolinas
‘It’s an uninvited brute who doesn’t want to leave’: N.C. governor
WILMINGTON, N.C. — Blowing ashore with howling 155 km/h winds, hurricane 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, including a woman and her infant.
Forecasters warned that drenching rains of 300 millimetres to 1,000 millimetres as the storm crawls westward across North and South Carolina could trigger epic flooding well inland over the next few days.
As 650-kilometre-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 neighbours 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 knocked out power to more than 840,000 homes and businesses, and the assault wasn’t anywhere close to being over, with the siege in the Carolinas expected to last all weekend.
“It’s an uninvited brute who doesn’t want to leave,” said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper.
The hurricane was “wreaking havoc” and could wipe out entire communities as it makes its “violent grind across our state for days,” the governor said. He said parts of North Carolina had seen storm surges — the bulge of seawater pushed ashore by the hurricane — as high as three metres.
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 left.
“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 225 km/h earlier in the week, Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at 7:15 a.m. at Wrightsville Beach, a few kilometres east of Wilmington and not far from the South Carolina line. It came ashore along a mostly boardedup stretch of coastline.
By Friday evening, Florence was downgraded to a tropical storm, its winds weakening to 112 km/h as it pushed inland. But it was clear that this was really about the water, not the wind.
Florence’s forward movement during the day slowed to a nearstandstill — sometimes it was going no faster than a human can walk — and that enabled it to pile on the rain. The town of Oriental, N.C., got more than 500 millimetres just a few hours into the deluge. Other communities got well over a foot 3,000 millimetres.
The flooding soon spread into South Carolina, swamping places like North Myrtle Beach, in a resort area known for its white sands and 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 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 68 trillion litres of rain over a week on North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Maryland. That’s enough to fill Chesapeake Bay or cover the entire state of Texas with nearly 10 centimetres of water, he calculated.
North Carolina is forecast to get 36 trillion litres, enough to cover the Tar Heel state to a depth of about 25 centimetres.
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 nearly 170 km/h, the highest since hurricane Helene in 1958. Nationwide, airlines cancelled more than 2,400 flights through Sunday.
In Jacksonville, N.C., next to Camp Lejeune, firefighters and police fought wind and rain as they went door-to-door to pull dozens of people out of the Triangle Motor Inn after the structure began to crumble and the roof started to collapse.
In New Bern, population 29,000, flooding on the Neuse River left 500 people in peril. “WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU,” the city tweeted around 2 a.m. “You may need to move up to the second storey, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU.”
Rescue workers, police and fire department members wait to remove the bodies of a mother and child who were killed by a falling tree as hurricane Florence made landfall in Wilmington, N.C. Friday .