‘Epic’ rain­fall still set to drench US east coast

Storm weak­ens but of­fi­cials warn it is still cat­a­strophic, caus­ing at least 8 deaths so far

The Straits Times - - TOPOF THE NEWS -

WIL­SON (North Carolina) Storm Florence weak­ened yes­ter­day as it swept through the Caroli­nas but dozens of com­mu­ni­ties are dev­as­tated and “epic” amounts of rain could still fall, of­fi­cials said.

The storm was down­graded to a trop­i­cal de­pres­sion at about 5am lo­cal time as it trudged in­land early yes­ter­day, knock­ing out power and caus­ing at least eight deaths as flood­wa­ters kept ris­ing.

North Carolina of­fi­cials have re­ported at least seven storm-re­lated fa­tal­i­ties with un­con­firmed re­ports of a fur­ther three deaths. The South Carolina au­thor­i­ties re­ported one death.

“This is still a cat­a­strophic, lifethreat­en­ing storm,” said Mr Zack Tay­lor, a me­te­o­rol­o­gist with the Na­tional Weather Cen­tre’s Weather Pre­dic­tion Cen­tre.

“It has al­ready dumped 20 inches to 30 inches (76cm) of rain on parts of the Caroli­nas with more to come,” he said. “And many of the rivers will see pro­longed flood­ing, some not crest­ing for a few days.”

Winds have dropped to about 55kmh since Florence roared ashore last Fri­day as a hur­ri­cane and it is crawl­ing west over two states at 9kmh, the Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­tre (NHC) in Mi­ami said early yes­ter­day.

“This storm is still deadly and dan­ger­ous and it’s ex­pected to turn north­ward later to­day into Vir­ginia and the mid-At­lantic,” he said.

Around 50 stranded peo­ple were air­lifted by he­li­copter in North Carolina, said Petty Of­fi­cer Michael Himes of the US Coast Guard. More than 26,000 hun­kered down in shel­ters.

Roads were closed and the au­thor­i­ties warned of land­slides, tor­na­does and flash floods, with dams and bridges in peril as rivers and creeks swelled.

As of Satur­day, about 676,000 homes and busi­nesses were with­out power i n North Carolina, along with 119,000 in South Carolina.

The White House said Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ap­proved mak­ing fed­eral fund­ing avail­able in some af­fected coun­ties.

Mr Trump, who plans to visit the re­gion this week, tweeted his “deep­est sym­pa­thies and warmth” to t he fam­i­lies and friends of those who had lost their lives.

Florence was drift­ing west­ward over South Carolina, reach­ing about 32km south-east of Columbia, South Carolina, at 5am yes­ter­day, the NHC said.

Up to 102cm of rain is ex­pected along coastal ar­eas of the Caroli­nas and up to 25.4cm in south­west­ern Vir­ginia, it said.

In Fayet­teville, a North Carolina city of about 210,000 peo­ple about 145km in­land, the au­thor­i­ties told thou­sands of res­i­dents near the Cape Fear River and Lit­tle River to get out of their homes by yes­ter­day af­ter­noon be­cause of the flood risk.

“If you are re­fus­ing to leave dur­ing this manda­tory evac­u­a­tion, you need to do things like no­tify your le­gal next of kin be­cause the loss of life is very, very pos­si­ble,” Mayor Mitch Colvin said at a news con­fer­ence.

“The worst is yet to come,” he added.

The storm made land­fall last Fri­day near Wilmington, a city of about 120,000 squeezed be­tween North Carolina’s At­lantic coast­line and the Cape Fear River.

Near the Sut­ton Power Plant in Wilmington, coal ash leaked from a Duke En­ergy land­fill. The site lost enough ma­te­rial to fill around two-thirds of an Olympic-size pool, the com­pany said in a state­ment, adding that it did not be­lieve the in­ci­dent posed a risk to health or the en­vi­ron­ment.

Of­fi­cials had warned be­fore the storm that rain could taint water­ways with murky coal ash and toxic hog waste.

Florence has al­ready set a North Carolina record for rain­fall to­tals, ex­ceed­ing that of Hur­ri­cane Floyd, which struck in 1999 and caused 56 deaths.

In New Bern, about 145km north-east of Wilmington at the con­flu­ence of two rivers, Florence over­whelmed the town of 30,000 and left the down­town area un­der wa­ter.

“It was pitch black and I was just scared out of my mind,” said Ms Tracy Sin­gle­ton, who, along with her fam­ily, later fled her home near New Bern.

The South Carolina au­thor­i­ties said law en­force­ment of­fi­cers were guard­ing against loot­ing in evac­u­ated ar­eas, while Wilmington set a cur­few on Satur­day evening in re­sponse to loot­ing in one area.

As the United States dealt with Florence, a typhoon made land­fall in China’s Guang­dong prov­ince yes­ter­day af­ter bar­relling past Hong Kong and Ma­cau and killing dozens in the Philip­pines.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Ms Su­san Hedg­peth and her dog Cooper be­ing evac­u­ated to higher ground by the US Coast Guard in Lum­ber­ton, North Carolina. Florence has wreaked havoc, knock­ing out power and dev­as­tat­ing com­mu­ni­ties.

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