Florence Death Toll Rises On Saturday
UPDATED 6 P.M.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has confirmed additional deaths related to Hurricane Florrence.
The seven storm-related deaths confirmed to date include:
- A 41 year old woman and her 7 month son, who died in Wilmington on Sept. 14 after a tree fell on their home
- A 68 year old man in Lenoir County who died after he was electrocuted while plugging in a generator on Sept. 14
- A 77 year old man in Lenoir County who fell and died due to a cardiac event while outside checking on dogs during teh storm on the night of Sept. 13/14
- An 81 year old man in Wayne County who fell and struck his head while packing to evacuate on Sept. 14
- A husband and wife died in a house fire in Cumberland County on Sept. 14
Two deaths in Carteret County were previously determined to be stomr related are now under further review by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
-Jason deBruyn, WUNC
UPDATED 4 P.M.
Many residents who evacuated North Carolina's Outer Banks ahead of Hurricane Florence began making their way back onto the barrier islands, which were spared from the worst of the storm's wrath.
The residents as well as workers and property owners were being allowed onto the northern portion of the islands beginning Saturday morning. Visitors were expected to be allowed entry to the same area beginning Sunday.
County officials and business owners reported relatively minimal damage, and there were no immediate reports of injuries or deaths.
While the Outer Banks survived Florence fairly unscathed, scientists say they remain incredibly vulnerable to future storms, climate change, and sea-level rise.
UPDATED 1 P.M.
The National Weather Service issued warnings of major flooding - the most extreme designation - both near the coast as well as inland North Carolina as far as Goldsboro, Ft. Bragg and even Salisbury.
Every major river in eastern and central North Carolina would experience at least some flooding, and the weather service warned that the highest river crests wouldn't happen until Monday and Tuesday.
The Cape Fear River could see a crest height of as much as 62.4 feet, according to the weather service. The highest crest on record is 68.9 feet.
-National Weather Service
UPDATED 12:30 P.M.
Portions of eastern North Carolina's two interstates are closed because of flooding caused by Tropical Storm Florence's torrential rains and may not re-open before Monday.
The state Department of Transportation says a 16-mile stretch of Interstate 95 between its intersection with I-40 and near the town of Dunn is closed. Law enforcement has set up a detour.
Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon said Saturday that authorities were still assembling an alternate route for a 5-mile section of I-40 that is closed in both directions near the town of Warsaw, about 70 miles southeast of Raleigh.
The state DOT said on its website that the two roads are expected to re-open by Monday morning.
Trogdon says road conditions are expected to get worse in the immediate future, pointing out the number of closed primary roads in eastern counties had doubled compared to Friday. He urged motorists not to travel east of I-95 or south of U.S. Highway 70.
Army National Guard Specialist Michael Mark, 1454th Transportation Company, operates a crane as part of storm preparation for Hurricane Florence, while at a North Carolina National Guard Base, Concord, N.C., September, 13, 2018. Hurricane Florence is one of the largest storms to hit North Carolina in years and has ignited a massive response from emergency services. 2,800 Service Members from the North Carolina National Guard have been activated to support hurricane relief efforts for North Carolina.
Credit NC National Guard
UPDATED 11 A.M.
Tropical Storm Florence continues to weaken as it dumps dangerous amounts of rain across the Carolinas.
The National Hurricane Center said Florence's top sustained winds have weakened to 45 mph.
At 11 a.m. Saturday, Florence was moving west at 2 mph, with its center located about 40 miles west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
The storm's extremely slow speed means the risk of catastrophic flooding remains high across both states. Some areas are forecast to receive up to 15 inches more rain, and storm totals could reach over 3 feet in some areas for the week.
National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham says areas like New Bern, North Carolina, could also see additional storm surge as high tide combines with the ocean waters still being pushed ashore by Florence's outer bands.
Florence, now a tropical storm, continued to wreak havoc on the Carolinas Saturday. It swirled at a near-standstill over the two states, dumping non-stop rain over areas already flooded by seawater and swelling rivers and creeks across both states.
Some towns have already been soaked by more than 2 feet of drenching rains, and forecasters warned that totals could reach 3½ feet, unleashing floods well inland through early next week. Rainfalls across many parts of the state continued at about 1 inch to 2 inches per hour. The rain and high winds have been battering Wilmington for more than 48 hours, and forecasters say the rain will continue until mid-day Sunday in many parts of the state.
Florence's death toll has now come to seven people across the state. The latest two deaths occurred on Harkers Island.
At 8 a.m. Saturday, Florence stalled about 35 miles west of Myrtle Beach, moving forward at just 2 mph, with top sustained winds of 50 mph.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper called Florence an "uninvited brute" that could wipe out entire communities as it grinds its way across land.
"The fact is this storm is deadly and we know we are days away from an ending," Cooper said.
With tropical storm-force winds swirling 350 miles wide, Florence continued deluging the Carolinas on Saturday morning after pushing surging seas far ashore. Rescue crews used boats to carry more than 360 people from rising water in the river town of New Bern, while many of their neighbors awaited help. Dozens more were pulled from a collapsed motel.
More than 100 shelters are open, with one more joining the list Saturday. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will open a large shelter this afternoon. Cooper made the announcement yesterday evening. It will be located at the Friday Center, and could hold several hundred people. Another large-scale shelter has been open at Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem for several days. Around 22,000 people are currently using one of the state's 122 shelters.
Utility companies have been working overnight to restore power outages across the state. As of Saturday morning, about 930,000 customers were without power in North Carolina. The highest concentration of outages is in Brunswick, New Hanover, Carteret, Cumberland, Johnston, and Robeson counties.
Emergency responders along the coast are also bracing for more storm surge. The National Hurricane Center reported life-threatening storm surge should be expected along the western Pamlico Sound, and along the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers.
A mother and baby were killed when a tree fell on a house, according to a tweet from Wilmington police. A 77-year-old man was apparently knocked down by the wind and died after going out to check on his hunting dogs, Lenoir County authorities said. The governor's office said a man was electrocuted while trying to connect extension cords in the rain.
Here's a look at the sunset over #TropicalStormFlorence, captured by #GOESEast. The storm is expected to move inland across eastern South Carolina tonight and Saturday before turning north toward the western Carolinas early next week. Latest: https://t.co/ROE9PMfPdt pic.twitter.com/aLLEcUwCg0— NOAA Satellites (@NOAASatellites) September 15, 2018
Shaken after seeing waves crashing on the Neuse River just outside his house in New Bern, restaurant owner and hurricane veteran Tom Ballance wished he had evacuated.
"I feel like the dumbest human being who ever walked the face of the earth," he said.
Florence peaked at a terrifying Category 4 with top winds of 140 mph over warm ocean water before making landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at 7:15 a.m. at Wrightsville Beach, a few miles east of Wilmington and not far from the South Carolina line. It blew ashore along a mostly boarded-up, emptied-out stretch of coastline.
But it was clear that this was really about the water, not the wind.
Morehead City, North Carolina, had received 23 inches of rain by Friday night, and forecasters warned Saturday morning that parts of the Carolinas could get up to 15 inches more.
At times, Florence was moving forward no faster than a human can walk, and it has remained such a wide storm that its counter-clockwise winds keep scooping up massive amounts of moisture from the sea. The flooding began on barrier islands in North Carolina and then spread into coastal and river communities there and in South Carolina, swamping the white sands and golf courses in North Myrtle Beach.
For people living inland in the Carolinas, maximum peril could come days later as all that water drains, overflowing rivers and causing flash floods.
Authorities warned, too, of risks of mudslides and environmental disasters from floodwaters washing over industrial waste sites and hog farms.
About 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians were deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats.
Florence could become a major test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticized as slow and unprepared last year for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, where the death toll was put at nearly 3,000.
The hurricane center said the storm will eventually break up over the southern Appalachians and make a right hook to the northeast, its rainy remnants moving into the mid-Atlantic states and New England by the middle of next week.
Meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com calculated that Florence could dump a staggering 18 trillion gallons of rain over a week on North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Maryland. That's enough to fill the Chesapeake Bay, or cover the entire state of Texas with nearly 4 inches of water.
North Carolina alone is forecast to get 9.6 trillion gallons, enough to cover the Tar Heel state to a depth of about 10 inches (25 centimeters).
In Jacksonville, next to Camp Lejeune, firefighters and police fought wind and rain as they went door to door to pull more than 60 people out as the Triangle Motor Inn began to crumble.
In New Bern, population 29,000, flooding on the Neuse River left 500 people in peril.
"WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU," the city tweeted during the height of the storm. "You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU."
Boat teams including volunteers rescued some 360 residents, including Sadie Marie Holt, 67, who first tried to row out of her neighborhood during Florence's assault.
"The wind was so hard, the waters were so hard ... We got thrown into mailboxes, houses, trees," said Holt, who had stayed at home because of a doctor's appointment that was later canceled. She was eventually rescued by a boat crew; 140 more awaited help.
Ashley Warren and boyfriend Chris Smith managed to paddle away from their home in a boat with their two dogs, and were left shaken.
"Honestly, I grew up in Wilmington. I love hurricanes. But this one has been an experience for me," she said. "We might leave."