FLORENCE: Storm’s death toll climbs, catastrophic flooding feared inland
NEW BERN, North Carolina — 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 145 kilometre an hour 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 move out for fear the next few days could bring the most destructive round of flooding in North Carolina history. “I cannot overstate it: Floodwaters are rising, and if you aren’t watching for them, you are risking your life,” Gov. Roy Cooper said.
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.
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 81-year-old man died after falling and hitting his head while packing to evacuate.
Authorities ordered the immediate evacuation of up to 7,500 people living within 1.6 kilometres of a stretch of the Cape Fear River and the Little River, about 160 kilometres from the coast. The evacuation zone included part of the city of Fayetteville, population 200,000.
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 26-km stretch of Interstate 95, the main highway along the Eastern Seaboard.
In New Bern, along the coast, homes were 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 U.S. 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 neighbourhood, navigating through trees and past a fencepost to get to the Knox house.
“Amazing. They did awesome,” said Knox, who was stranded with seven others, including a boy who was carried out in a life vest. “If not, we’d be stuck upstairs for the next … how long? I have no idea.”