Hur­ri­cane Florence drenches the Caroli­nas

‘It’s an un­in­vited brute who doesn’t want to leave’: N.C. gov­er­nor

The Hamilton Spectator - - Canada & World - JONATHAN DREW

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 weath­er­mod­ 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 .

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