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Florence Death Toll Rises As Rivers Continue To Rise

Updated at 5:29 p.m.

Governor Roy Cooper toured storm damaged areas around the state Sunday and visited a shelter in Chapel Hill housing evacuees from Hurricane Florence.
Many of the evacuees at the UNC Friday Center were relocated from a shelter in Fayetteville that was shut down because of the threat of flooding from a swelling Cape Fear River.

The governor offered evacuees comfort. But he had little information about when they might go back to homes hit by the storm and subsequent flooding.

"This is a storm that will not leave," Cooper said Sunday afternoon.

Water is released from the dam at Hope Mills Lake, south of Fayetteville, into the Cape Fear River after flood waters from Hurricane Florence inundated the area on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018, in Hope Mills, NC
Credit Naomi Prioleau / WUNC
Water is released from the dam at Hope Mills Lake, south of Fayetteville, into the Cape Fear River after flood waters from Hurricane Florence inundated the area on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018, in Hope Mills, NC.

Many of the more than 200 people who fled the oncoming storm came from the Jones County town of Trenton, North Carolina, down east.

Martha Oates, 80, was first sent to the armory in Fayetteville but had to be moved from that facility in the face of flooding from the Cape Fear River. Oates said she really wants to know how family member who did not evacuate are doing.

"Cause all three of my sisters, three of them, lives in trailers and trailers is known to go up, you know, be blown away, just about," Oates said.

The western part of the state is on guard for landslides due to rain from Florence.

The death toll attributed to Florence climbed to 16 Sunday afternoon, including 10 in North Carolina and six in South Carolina.

- Rusty Jacobs, Naomi Prioleau, Elizabeth Baier, WUNC

Updated at 2:50 p.m.

The death toll attributed to Florence stands at 15, including 10 in North Carolina and five in South Carolina.

  • A driver died Sunday when a pickup truck struck an overpass support beam in Kershaw County, South Carolina, state troopers said.
  • 23-year-old Michael Dalton Prince died Sunday after the truck he was riding in lost control on a flooded two-lane road in Georgetown County, South Carolina, said Coroner Kenny Johnson. The driver and another passenger escaped after the truck landed upside down in a flooded ditch.
  • 63-year-old Mark Carter King and 61-year-old Debra Collins Rion of Loris, South Carolina, died of carbon monoxide poisoning from running a generator indoors, authorities said.
  • A husband and wife died in a Fayetteville, North Carolina, house fire Friday.
  • A mother and her 8-month-old child were killed when a massive tree crushed their brick house Friday in Wilmington, North Carolina.
  • An 81-year-old man died while trying to evacuate Wayne County, North Carolina, on Friday. 
  • A 78-year-old man was electrocuted in the rain while trying to connect extension cords for a generator in Lenoir County, North Carolina.
  • A 77-year old man died after he went outside to check on his hunting dogs and was blown down by strong winds
  • Three people died in Duplin County, North Carolina, because of flash flooding and swift water on roadways.
  • 61-year-old Amber Dawn Lee died late Friday when the vehicle she was driving struck a tree near the town of Union, South Carolina.

Authorities say the storm did not cause some other deaths that occurred during Florence in North Carolina: a woman who died of undetermined causes in a shelter, a woman who suffered a heart attack at home during the storm, and a couple whose apparent murder-suicide was investigated during hurricane conditions in Otway.
- Associated Press

People gather outside Knightdale High School, which has been converted to an evacuation shelter for those affected by Hurricane Florence in Kinghtdale, N.C., Sunday, Sep. 16, 2018.
Credit Ben McKeown / For WUNC
People gather outside Knightdale High School, which has been converted to an evacuation shelter for those affected by Hurricane Florence in Kinghtdale, N.C., Sunday, Sep. 16, 2018.

Updated at 1:14 p.m.

The city of Wilmington, North Carolina, has been completely cut off by floodwaters and officials are asking for additional help from state law enforcement and the National Guard.Woody White is chairman of the board of commissioners of New Hanover County. He said at a news conference Sunday that additional rainfall Saturday night made roads into the city impassable.

White says officials are planning for food and water to be flown to the county, although new distribution centers will have to be found because of all the rain in the northern part of the county.

On Sunday morning, Governor Roy Cooper flew over many of the affected areas, including Fayetteville and Hope Mills.

"I am concerned about the impact on crops and farms," Cooper said. "Weather prevented us to get to Wilmington, but we were able to fly up the Nuesse River toward New Bern to see the devastating impacts there."

Forecasters say the worst is yet to come.  The rain is still falling and rivers are rising.

- Associated Press; Elizabeth Baier, David Brower, WUNC

Updated at 11:54 a.m.

As the death toll from Florence grew and hundreds of people were pulled from flooded homes, North Carolina braced for catastrophic, widespread river flooding that could be the next stage of a mounting disaster.
Weakened to a tropical depression early Sunday after blowing ashore as a hurricane with 90 mph (145 kph) winds on Friday, Florence was still spinning slowly atop the Carolinas as it pulled warm water from the ocean and hurled it onshore.

The storm's death toll climbed to 14 when a man drowned after a pickup truck flipped into a drainage ditch along a flooded road in South Carolina. Earlier, authorities said two people died from inhaling carbon monoxide from a generator in their home.

About 740,000 homes and businesses remained without power in the Carolinas, and utilities said some could be out for weeks.

Radar showed parts of the sprawling storm over six states, but North and South Carolina were in the bull's-eye.

- Associated Press

Updated at 11 a.m.

Persistent rain and flooding from now-Tropical Storm Florence continues to plague much of southeastern and central North Carolina.
In Wilmington, shelters had to be closed and evacuees relocated because of worsening conditions. New Hanover County Commissioner Woody White had a clear message for people who have already evacuated the Wilmington area.

"If you've got food, water and shelter, stay where you are," White said. "It's difficult to get here. It's really, really difficult circumstances down here right now."

White said roads are impassable, power lines are down and food and water deliveries to Wilmington have been difficult if not impossible.

Also Sunday morning, the company that supplies water for the Wilmington area announced it is running out of fuel. The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority said if they do not get the needed fuel in the next 48-hours, all water service will be shut down. That means no drinking water or services for fire suppression. Supply routes are essentially shut down due to flooding.

The storm's death toll climbed to 13 when authorities said two people died from inhaling carbon monoxide from a generator in their South Carolina home.

- Elizabeth Baier, Rusty Jacobs, David Brower, WUNC; Associated Press

Updated at 9:32 a.m.

The risk of flash flooding and major river flooding is expected to rise across North Carolina Sunday and Monday. Rivers are swelling to record levels and thousands more have been ordered to evacuate for fear that the next few days could bring some of the most destructive flooding in this state's history.

The State Department of Transportation says all roadways in the state are at varying degrees of risk for flash flooding today. Officials are warning drivers traveling through North Carolina this weekend that they may be detoured completely around the state. Interstates 95, 40, 77 and 26 have all been impacted.

More than 680,000 utility customers are still without power, according to North Carolina Emergency Management. Many areas in the eastern and central parts of the state remain under evacuation orders due to the risk of flooding. Harnett County has been under a mandatory evacuation order since yesterday. Flood-prone parts of Cumberland, Sampson, Duplin, Pender and New Hanover counties are also under mandatory evacuation orders.

Meanwhile, more than 20,000 people spent the night in shelters across the state. Many left home as the storm was approaching the coast. Governor Roy Cooper says in many areas, it's still too soon to go back home.  

"When you go back home, then you're getting in the way of emergency responders, utility crews, relief efforts so we ask you to stay off the road," Cooper said. "People of North Carolina have been pretty good about that. We're going to ask you to continue."

While flooding continues inland, along the coast, some residents soon will be allowed to start returning home to assess property damage from Hurricane Florence.

Carteret County officials said residents and property owners with re-entry permits will have access to their homes on Emerald Isle, Indian Beach, Salter Path and Atlantic Beach, starting at 1:00 p.m. today. Pine Knolls Shore residents may re-enter tomorrow afternoon.

A number of schools will remain closed on Monday morning. Cumberland County Schools are closed tomorrow and Robeson County Schools announced that they will remain closed until further notice.

UNC Chapel Hill and N.C. State University canceled classes on Monday and have plans to re-open on Tuesday. Meanwhile ECU will resume classes on Wednesday.

- Elizabeth Baier, David Brower, Rusty Jacobs, Jay Price, WUNC

Updated at 8:34 a.m. 

As the death toll from Florence mounted and hundreds of people were pulled from flooded homes, North Carolina is bracing for what could be the next stage of a still-unfolding disaster: widespread, catastrophic river flooding.

After blowing ashore as a hurricane with 90 mph (145 kph) winds, Florence virtually parked itself much of the weekend atop the Carolinas as it pulled warm water from the ocean and hurled it onshore. Storm surges, flash floods and winds scattered destruction widely and the Marines, the Coast Guard, civilian crews and volunteers used helicopters, boats and heavy-duty vehicles to conduct rescues Saturday.

The death toll from the hurricane-turned-tropical depression climbed to 11.

Rivers are swelling toward record levels, forecasters now warn, and thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate for fear that the next few days could bring the most destructive round of flooding in North Carolina history.

Stream gauges across the region showed water levels rising steadily, with forecasts calling for rivers to crest Sunday and Monday at or near record levels: The Little River, the Cape Fear, the Lumber, the Neuse, the Waccamaw and the Pee Dee were all projected to burst their banks, possibly flooding nearby communities.

Authorities ordered the immediate evacuation of up to 7,500 people living within a mile (1.6 kilometers) of a stretch of the Cape Fear River and the Little River, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the North Carolina coast. The evacuation zone included part of the city of Fayetteville, population 200,000.

John Rose owns a furniture business with stores less than a mile (1.6 kilometers) from the river. Rain-soaked furniture workers helped him quickly empty more than 1,000 mattresses from a warehouse in a low-lying strip mall.

"It's the first time we've ever had to move anything like this," Rose said. "If the river rises to the level they say it's going to, then this warehouse is going to be under water."

On U.S. Route 401 nearby, rain rose in ditches and around unharvested tobacco crops along the road. Ponds had begun to overflow, and creeks passing under the highway churned with muddy, brown water. Further along the Cape Fear River, grass and trees lining the banks were partly submerged, still well below a highway bridge crossing it.

"It's hard to believe it's going to get that high," says Elizabeth Machado, who came to the bridge to check on the river.

Fayetteville's city officials, meanwhile, got help from the Nebraska Task Force One search and rescue team to evacuate some 140 residents of an assisted living facility in Fayetteville to a safer location at a church.

Already, more than 2 feet (60 centimeters) of rain has fallen in places, and forecasters saying there could be an additional 1½ feet (45 centimeters) before Sunday is out.

"I cannot overstate it: Floodwaters are rising, and if you aren't watching for them, you are risking your life," Gov. Roy Cooper said.

Florence weakened to a tropical depression early Sunday and was crawling west at 8 mph (13 kph). At 5 a.m., the storm was centered about 20 miles (35 kilometers) southwest of Columbia, South Carolina. Its winds were down to 35 mph (55 kph).

In Goldsboro, North Carolina, home of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, roads that frequently flood were already closed Saturday by rushing water. Dozens of electric repair trucks massed to respond to damage expected to hit central North Carolina as rainwater collected into rivers headed to the coast. Hundreds of thousands of outages have been reported.

A creek that feeds into the Neuse was rushing over a road near Phil Eubanks' home Saturday. Another creek backed up into their basement Friday, but based on past experience Eubanks and his wife think the worst is over for them.

"I didn't sleep last night. It was creeping up those steps" from the basement, said his jittery wife, Ellen. "It came up. It went down today. I think we're OK."

On Saturday evening, Duke Energy said heavy rains caused a slope to collapse at a coal ash landfill at a closed power station outside Wilmington, North Carolina. Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said about 2,000 cubic yards (1,530 cubic meters) of ash were displaced at the Sutton Plant and that contaminated storm water likely flowed into the plant's cooling pond.

Sutton was mothballed in 2013 and the company has been excavating ash to remove to safer lined landfills. The ash left behind when coal is burned contains toxic heavy metals, including lead and arsenic.

In New Bern, along the coast, homes were completely surrounded by water, and rescuers used inflatable boats to reach people Saturday.

Kevin Knox and his family were rescued by boat from their flooded brick home with the help of Army Sgt. Johan Mackie, whose team used a phone app to locate people in distress.

"Amazing. They did awesome," said Knox, who was stranded with seven others including a boy in a life vest.

New Bern spokeswoman Colleen Roberts said 455 people were safely rescued in the town of 30,000 residents. She called damage to thousands of buildings "heart-wrenching."

Across the Trent River from New Bern, Jerry and Jan Andrews returned home after evacuating to find carp flopping in their backyard near the porch stairs.

Coast Guard helicopters took off across the street to rescue stranded people from rooftops and swamped cars.

The Marines rescued about 20 civilians from floodwaters near Camp Lejeune, using Humvees and amphibious assault vehicles, the base reported.

The dead included a mother and baby killed by a falling tree in Wilmington, North Carolina. South Carolina recorded its first death from the storm, with officials saying a 61-year-old woman was killed when her car hit a tree that fell across a highway.

Three died in one inland county, Duplin, because of water on roads and flash floods, authorities said. A husband and wife died in a storm-linked house fire, officials said, and an 81-year-old man died after falling while packing to evacuate.

- Associated Press

Stories, features and more by WUNC News Staff. Also, features and commentary not by any one reporter.
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