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Death toll rises as heavy rain from Florence continues to fall

by Rachel Lynn Aldrich & Mickey McLean
Posted 9/15/18, 07:06 pm

UPDATE: Authorities in North and South Carolina said Saturday that the death toll related to Florence had climbed to 11, as crews rescued people from rising waters caused by record amounts of rainfall along the coast and inland. More than 2 feet of rain had fallen in places, with an additional 1½ feet possible in the two-state region from the slow-moving tropical storm through Sunday.

Authorities ordered the evacuation of approximately 750,000 people living along a stretch of the Cape Fear River and Little River near Fayetteville, N.C., 100 miles from the coast. Water levels were rising steadily for those two rivers, as well as the region’s Lumber, Neuse, Waccamaw, and Pee Dee rivers. All were predicted to crest Sunday or Monday and flood nearby cities and towns. Flooding also caused the closing of a 16-mile stretch of Interstate 95, the main U.S. north-south highway along the Eastern Seaboard.

Crews rescued more than 400 people in New Bern, N.C., from rising floodwaters without any serious injuries or deaths, according to town spokeswoman Colleen Roberts. The Coast Guard using helicopters made multiple rescues in and around New Bern and nearby Jacksonville, N.C., on Saturday. In nearby Camp Lejeune, Marines rescued about 20 civilians using Humvees and amphibious assault vehicles, the base reported.

South Carolina recorded its first death from the storm: A 61-year-old woman died when her car hit a fallen tree. In Duplin County, N.C., three died because of water on roads and flash floods, according to the sheriff’s office. Other deaths include a husband and wife perishing in a house fire linked to the storm and an 81-year-old man who fell and hit his head while packing to evacuate.

As of 5 p.m. Saturday, Florence was centered about 60 miles west of Myrtle Beach, S.C., moving west at only 2 mph, with sustained winds of 45 mph.

UPDATE (9/15/18, 12:08 p.m.): As Florence plods along slowly on its westward course in South Carolina, with its outer bands reaching far into North Carolina, floodwaters continue to rise inland on Saturday, as more than 2 feet of rain has fallen in some areas of the region. In New Bern, N.C., some homes are completely surrounded by water from the Trent and Neuse rivers, with more flooding likely on the way as high tide combines with seawater pushed ashore by the storm. Rescuers used small inflatible boats to remove people in homes already submerged. In Harnett County, N.C., 90 miles inland, authorities urged residents along the Lower Little River to evacuate as it rose toward record levels.

“And we’re not done yet,” said National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham, adding that some areas could get an additional 15 to 20 inches of rain because of the storm’s slow movement. At 11 a.m., Florence was centered about 40 miles west of Myrtle Beach, S.C., moving west at 2 mph, with top sustained winds at 45 mph.

UPDATE (9/15/18, 9:50 a.m.): Tropical Storm Florence moved into South Carolina Saturday morning as it continues to dump large amounts of rain on the region, increasing the threat of additional flooding inland and along the coastline. At 8 a.m. Saturday, the storm’s center was 35 miles west of Myrtle Beach, S.C., and was moving westward toward the middle of the state at just 2 mph, with top sustained winds at 50 mph. North Carolina continues to be on the receiving end of the 350-mile-wide storm’s tropical storm–force winds and heavy rain. Close to 1 million homes and businesses in the two states have lost power. The National Hurricane Center said the storm will eventually break up over the southern Appalachian Mountains and make a sharp right turn toward the northeast, bringing rain to the mid-Atlantic and New England states by the middle of next week.

UPDATE (9/14/18, 6:07 p.m.) : Forecasters downgraded Florence to a tropical storm late Friday afternoon, with its sustained winds now at 70 mph. The 400-mile-wide storm remains nearly stationary, with its center located along the coastline at the border of North and South Carolina, but its tropical storm–force winds extend 175 miles outward from its center. Rainfall totals for the region could approach 3½ feet, which could lead to catastrophic flash flooding inland. Close to 10,000 National Guard troops and civilians are deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters, and boats that could be used to rescue people from the floodwaters. In New Bern, N.C., hundreds were rescued from rising river water, while more than a hundred more still awaited help. Approximately 800,000 homes and businesses were without power in North and South Carolina.

So far, authorities say four people have died in storm-related incidents, including a 77-year-old man who apparently was knocked down by the wind and died after going out to check on his hunting dogs and a man who was electrocuted while trying to connect extension cords in the rain.

UPDATE (9/14/18, 3:46 p.m.): Police in Wilmington, N.C., reported Friday afternoon the first fatalities related to Hurricane Florence: A mother and an infant died when a tree fell on their house. The father was transported to a local hospital for treatment. The storm, with sustained winds now down to 75 mph, remains perched near the North Carolina–South Carolina border. The National Hurricane Center said Florence by Friday afternoon had dumped more than 16 inches of rain on southeastern North Carolina with another potential 20 to 25 inches yet to fall. The storm should move farther inland across the Carolinas through the weekend before turning toward the central Appalachian Mountains early next week.

UPDATE (9/14/18, 1:28 p.m.): Hurricane Florence continues to move slowly as its center nears the North Carolina–South Carolina border, dumping massive amounts of rain on the region. “Hurricane Florence is powerful, slow and relentless,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said. “It’s an uninvited brute who doesn’t want to leave.” Florence could dump close to 18 trillion gallons of rain over the next week on North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Maryland, according to meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com, enough to fill the Chesapeake Bay, he calculated. But that’s still less than the 25 trillion gallons Harvey dropped on Texas and Louisiana last year.

OUR EARLIER REPORT (9/14/18, 11:29 a.m.): Hurricane Florence made landfall early Friday morning at Wrightsville Beach, N.C., as a Category 1 storm, bringing with it a huge storm surge. As of 11 a.m. Friday, the center of the storm hovered inland near Cape Fear, N.C., 20 miles southwest of Wilmington and 55 miles east-northeast of Myrtle Beach, S.C. Florence’s top sustained winds have dropped to 80 mph, but its slow crawl in a west-southwest direction at 3 mph is causing it to dump huge amounts of rain along the coast and farther inland.

Several coastal communities are already submerged under more than 6 feet of water, and more than half a million homes and businesses were without power Friday morning, according to poweroutage.us. More than 60 people were pulled from a motel destabilized by the storm early this morning, and others who didn’t evacuate await rescue in the region. So far there have been no reported deaths.

Because of the storm’s slow movement, forecasters expect wind and rain to batter coastal areas of North and South Carolina for hours and predict the storm surge could cover most of the coast in up to 11 feet of seawater. Coastal and river communities north of the storm likely will face the worst flooding. The large storm’s hurricane-force winds extend up to 70 miles from its center, while tropical storm–force winds reach up to 195 miles away.


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Rachel Lynn Aldrich

Rachel is a World Journalism Institute graduate. Follow Rachel on Twitter @Rachel_Lynn_A.

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Mickey McLean

Mickey is executive editor of WORLD Digital. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and a dog/administrative assistant named Daisy.

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