‘Pro­longed de­struc­tion’ likely as Florence bat­ters US east coast

The Guardian - - WORLD - Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Adam Gab­batt in Con­way, South Carolina, and Khushbu Shah in Wilm­ing­ton, North Carolina Oliver Laugh­land

Hur­ri­cane Florence pounded the coast of North Carolina yes­ter­day with 90mph winds and a life-threat­en­ing storm surge as the slow-mov­ing sys­tem cut power to more than half a mil­lion homes in the re­gion, leav­ing of­fi­cials warn­ing of a pro­longed pe­riod of de­struc­tion.

Florence, a cat­e­gory 1 hur­ri­cane, made land­fall yes­ter­day morn­ing just out­side the city of Wilm­ing­ton, where trees were bent al­most to the ground by the force of the winds, which gusted at 105mph.

Fifty miles north, in the city of Jack­sonville, more than 60 oc­cu­pants of a mo­tel were forced to evac­u­ate as the build­ing crum­bled. As of yes­ter­day af­ter­noon, there were no re­ports of fa­tal­i­ties.

Fore­cast­ers warned of his­toric lev­els of rain­fall as the storm crawled south-west to­wards South Carolina at 5mph. Se­vere fresh­wa­ter flood­ing was also ex­pected in the fol­low­ing days as the re­gion braced for an ex­tended pe­riod of tor­rid weather.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump praised the “in­cred­i­ble job” be­ing done by fed­eral emer­gency work­ers and first re­spon­ders. The pres­i­dent was reel­ing from crit­i­cism af­ter at­tempt­ing to down­play the al­most 3,000 deaths in Puerto Rico dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Maria in 2017.

On the streets of Wilm­ing­ton, res­i­dents slowly emerged to in­spect the dam­age af­ter the eye of the storm passed over the his­toric port city. De­bris lit­tered the streets and there were re­ports that three peo­ple had been trapped by a fall­ing tree, with one of the in­jured re­quir­ing an am­pu­ta­tion. The storm surge in Wilm­ing­ton was ex­pected to top off at 13 feet.

The next ma­jor pop­u­la­tion cen­tre in Florence’s path, Myr­tle Beach in South Carolina, was lashed with rain and gusts through­out yes­ter­day morn­ing. The storm was ex­pected to reach the city, with a pop­u­la­tion of 30,000 peo­ple, by last night.

Al­though the roads in Myr­tle Beach re­mained eerily quiet, the city’s Waf­fle House, a chain restau­rant known through­out the Amer­i­can south, re­mained open, serv­ing an emer­gency menu through­out the day. Work­ers said they would stay open even if they lost power.

In one of the city’s low-in­come hous­ing com­mu­ni­ties, the Sandy­gate Vil­lage, many res­i­dents re­ported be­ing un­able to evac­u­ate be­cause of the fi­nan­cial bur­den.

57-year-old res­i­dent Henry Mitchell, who is dis­abled and un­em­ployed, said: “It’s too ex­pen­sive to move out to a ho­tel. I could be out for days and I can’t af­ford to leave my home be­hind.”

The hous­ing blocks are a few hun­dred feet from the Wac­ca­maw river, which fore­cast­ers are ex­pect­ing to flood sig­nif­i­cantly dur­ing and af­ter the hur­ri­cane.

In the city of Con­way, eight miles north of Myr­tle Beach, 27-year-old Rocky Ses­sion spent yes­ter­day morn­ing mak­ing last-minute ad­just­ments to his trailer home: a few bars of wood over the win­dows.

“I feel a lit­tle bit bet­ter,” Ses­sion said. “But this will prob­a­bly be all flooded later to­day.” He added: “I’m pretty sure my trailer’s not go­ing to blow away – it’s strapped down – but I’m wor­ried about flood­ing.”

Ses­sion and his wife, Holly Dew, evac­u­ated their sin­gle-storey home on Thurs­day and were stay­ing in a nearby ho­tel. They would have moved fur­ther, but Dew’s mother, Deb­o­rah, is in in­ten­sive care in a Con­way hos­pi­tal. About 2,200 pa­tients in seven South Carolina hos­pi­tals have al­ready been evac­u­ated.

About 9,700 Na­tional Guard troops and civil­ians have been sta­tioned through­out the area with high-wa­ter ve­hi­cles, he­li­copters and boats that could be used dur­ing res­cue op­er­a­tions in the af­ter­math.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: ATILGAN OZDIL/GETTY IM­AGES

Fire­fight­ers in a boat res­cue peo­ple from their flooded home in New Bern, North Carolina

A woman is told that a tree has fallen on to her fam­ily’s house

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