‘Prolonged destruction’ likely as Florence batters US east coast
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.
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