As death toll rises to 11, of­fi­cials fear com­pla­cency

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY SCOTT WIL­SON, PA­TRI­CIA SUL­LI­VAN, EMILY WAX-THIBODEAUX AND KEVIN SUL­LI­VAN

lum­ber­ton, n.c. — North Carolina of­fi­cials warned res­i­dents Satur­day not to be­come “com­pla­cent” about Trop­i­cal Storm Florence, which, de­spite weak­erthan-ex­pected winds, is poised to cause his­toric flood­ing and dev­as­ta­tion for many days across much of the re­gion.

“We’re try­ing to make it to­tally clear that this is deadly,” Fayet­teville Mayor Mitch Colvin said, shortly af­ter an­nounc­ing an un­prece­dented manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­der for all peo­ple who live within a mile of the Cape Fear River and the Lit­tle River. “We can’t force folks to leave, but we are let­ting them know if they don’t get out, they are not go­ing to get help for some time.”

The Cape Fear River was about 12 feet high on Fri­day af­ter­noon and is ex­pected to rise to more than 62 feet in Fayet­teville by Tues­day, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion (NOAA). Colvin noted that four peo­ple died in his city dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Matthew in 2016, when the river crested at 52 feet.

Florence al­ready has set rain­fall records and left tens of thou­sands of peo­ple in shel­ters and more than 1 mil­lion homes with­out power. Of­fi­cials con­firmed at least 11 deaths, in­clud­ing one Satur­day in South Carolina.

But Gov. Roy Cooper (D) and other of­fi­cials re­peat­edly warned Satur­day that although peo­ple might think the worst of the storm is over, the vol­ume of rain­wa­ter it will drop in the com­ing days will cause flood­ing not seen in a gen­er­a­tion — if ever.

As of Satur­day, Florence had dropped 30 inches of rain, shat-

ter­ing the record of 24 inches set dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Floyd in 1999. And the fore­cast is for the storm, which has es­sen­tially stalled over North Carolina, to con­tinue pour­ing down rain, per­haps 15 more inches.

“We face walls of wa­ter — at our coast, along our rivers, across farm­land, in our cities and in our towns,” Cooper said at a news brief­ing. “More peo­ple now face im­mi­nent threat than when the storm was just off­shore. I can­not over­state it. Flood­wa­ters are ris­ing, and if you aren’t watch­ing for them, you are risk­ing your life.”

Of­fi­cials is­sued sev­eral manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­ders, in­clud­ing some 100 miles or more from Wrightsville Beach, N.C., where Florence came ashore Fri­day with pow­er­ful winds and driv­ing rains that only hinted at the cat­a­strophic dam­age it is likely to in­flict.

“Know that the wa­ter is ris­ing fast — every­where, even in places that don’t typ­i­cally flood,” Cooper said. “This sys­tem is un­load­ing epic amounts of rain­fall, in some places mea­sured in feet and not inches. Many peo­ple who think the storm has missed them have yet to see its threat.”

Florence’s sheer vol­ume of wa­ter, much of it sucked up dur­ing its slow jour­ney over warmer-than-usual At­lantic wa­ter, has left sci­en­tists sput­ter­ing for ad­e­quate de­scrip­tions.

The storm is go­ing to dump about 18 tril­lion gal­lons of wa­ter, which is about the vol­ume of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, or enough to cover the state of Texas in four inches of wa­ter, said Ryan Maue, a me­te­o­rol­o­gist with weath­er­mod­els.com.

Maue said about 6 tril­lion gal­lons had fallen by Satur­day af­ter­noon. So, he said, “we’re only about one-third of the way through this.”

That means rain will over­flow al­ready full rivers and streams far from the shore­line, and that, in turn, will have cas­cad­ing ef­fects through­out the wa­ter­shed.

In Lum­ber­ton, about 90 miles from the coast, the Lum­ber River was just be­low the flood stage of 13 feet at midday Satur­day, and NOAA pre­dicted that will nearly dou­ble by midday Sun­day and re­main at that level at least into Thurs­day.

Even far­ther in­land, NOAA pre­dicted that the Lit­tle River will rise from 18 feet on Satur­day to a record 35 feet on Sun­day in Manch­ester, N.C., and it is pre­dicted to stay above the pre­vi­ous record of 29 feet un­til at least Wed­nes­day.

De­spite the dire pre­dic­tions and of­fi­cial warn­ings, some res­i­dents were stay­ing put at home, hop­ing for the best.

As many of his Lum­ber­ton neigh­bors moved out Satur­day, Tyson Jer­ald was busy mov­ing in, haul­ing a dryer into the kitchen and as­sem­bling liv­ing room fur­ni­ture.

Jer­ald, a 40-year-old truck driver, had one eye on the move. The other, as he put it, was “24/7 on the Weather Chan­nel,” as the swirling red-and-green image known as Florence trav­eled across the screen and to­ward his new home.

Two years ago, Hur­ri­cane Matthew swamped half of this neigh­bor­hood, which is divided by a canal that leads to the Lum­ber River. Jer­ald lived on the other side of the canal then, and his house was spared. But this storm feels dif­fer­ent to him.

“We’ve never seen any­thing like this,” he said. “But Matthew taught us some things. Now I’ve got gas in all the cars, a gen­er­a­tor, cash and we will get out of Dodge if we have to.”

A few houses down from Jer­ald’s — and a few houses closer to the canal — Char­lie McCormick was rid­ing out the storm Satur­day, his teenage chil­dren “happy and on Xbox and Net­flix.” But he said that de­ci­sion could change Sun­day, de­pend­ing on Florence.

McCormick was in his home dur­ing Matthew, and he watched the canal spill the other way and flood the older section of the neigh­bor­hood.

“Our con­cern now is that the river will rise higher than it did with Matthew, and it looks like it will,” he said. “We’re watch­ing, but there’s not much else to do.”

The storm also is pre­dicted to swell rivers to ex­treme flood lev­els well into Vir­ginia. The Dan River in Danville, Paces and South Bos­ton is pro­jected to rise from its cur­rent level of about seven to 10 feet to about 30 feet on Tues­day and Wed­nes­day, ac­cord­ing to NOAA.

In Roanoke, at the foot of Vir­ginia’s Shenan­doah Moun­tains and nearly 300 miles from where Florence made land­fall on a North Carolina beach, the Roanoke River is ex­pected to rise from less than three feet now to more than 16 feet — ma­jor flood­ing lev­els — on Mon­day.

Res­cue crews — fed­eral, state, lo­cal and pri­vate vol­un­teers — have helped hun­dreds of stranded peo­ple. And at least 20,000 peo­ple have moved into shel­ters in North Carolina, of­fi­cials said.

Con­di­tions are so poor across so much of the state that the head of North Carolina’s trans­porta­tion de­part­ment asked that trav­el­ers avoid the state al­to­gether.

Jim Trog­don sug­gested that trav­el­ers es­sen­tially go around the state, de­tour­ing through Vir­ginia, Ten­nessee and Ge­or­gia, if nec­es­sary. He said he wanted to pre­vent driv­ers from get­ting stranded amid ris­ing flood­wa­ter and to keep roads as clear as pos­si­ble for emer­gency work­ers.

He noted that roads were flood­ing fast; the num­ber of clo­sures nearly dou­bled dur­ing the span of a few hours Satur­day. Even ma­jor ar­ter­ies such as In­ter­states 40 and 95 have been af­fected.

“Road con­di­tions across nearly all of our state will be rapidly de­te­ri­o­rat­ing in com­ing days,” he said.

Also ap­pear­ing at the af­ter­noon brief­ing, Cooper, the gover­nor, added: “Roads you think may be safe can be washed away in a mat­ter of min­utes.”

In Wilmington, close to where Florence came ashore, county and lo­cal of­fi­cials said at a news con­fer­ence that they are pleased with the state and fed­eral re­sponse, but they also pleaded for agen­cies to help the Wilmington area as soon as pos­si­ble, be­fore the flood­ing wors­ens.

“We’re just now en­ter­ing the thick of it,” said Woody White, chair­man of the New Hanover County Com­mis­sion. “Over­all, we sur­vived this . . . but we’re still in the mid­dle of it.”

Wrightsville Beach Mayor Bill Blair said that his ocean­front com­mu­nity suf­fered sig­nif­i­cant dam­age, but that “the struc­tural dam­age is not as se­vere as it looks” on so­cial me­dia.

“We had some pretty big surges, and at high tide, the five- to six-foot surges very quickly cov­ered a good por­tion of the is­land,” he said. “We put out 75,000 cu­bic yards of sand on the beach a few months ago, and it looks like we lost most of it. But we did not have a breach” through the is­land.

Ac­cess to the pop­u­lar beach com­mu­nity Satur­day was still lim­ited to po­lice, fire, gov­ern­ment and re­pair crews. Blair said teams were work­ing to get wa­ter and sewer fa­cil­i­ties open again.

Fallen trees and power lines blocked many Wilmington roads, and traf­fic lights were out vir­tu­ally every­where. Res­i­dents, clearly get­ting cabin fever af­ter a full day in­doors, be­gan ven­tur­ing out Satur­day, but of­fi­cials warned them to stay off the roads.

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said some wa­ter-cov­ered roads hide sink­holes that have de­vel­oped in some lo­ca­tions. Twenty crews are clear­ing felled trees, but be­cause many hang­ing or downed power lines hide within and be­neath the trees, crews some­times have to stop mid-work and call for util­ity crews to re­spond.

About 112,000 peo­ple, out of 127,000 lo­cally, re­main with­out power in Wilmington, and Duke En­ergy of­fi­cials warned Fri­day that it could be weeks be­fore power is fully re­stored.

At a Waf­fle House on Mar­ket Street, one of the very few busi­nesses open Satur­day, more than 20 peo­ple lined up out­side, seek­ing hot food and a chance to get out of their homes.

“My kids are tired of peanut but­ter and jelly sand­wiches,” said April Bel­lamy, 38, who said her apart­ment in the Creek­wood neigh­bor­hood is with­out power and is likely to re­main so for weeks.

“I’ve been on that side of town all my life, and we’re al­ways the last to get power,” she said.

MARK WIL­SON/GETTY IMAGES

Peo­ple wait to fill up gas cans Satur­day at a ser­vice sta­tion in Wilmington, N.C. Fallen trees and power lines blocked many lo­cal roads.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.