The winds of Florence have eased, but the storm was expected to continue its torrential downpour on the Carolinas on Saturday, with officials fearing the worst damage was yet to come.
Forecasters are predicting record-setting rainfall as high as 40 inches, with an additional 10 to 15 inches still expected in some areas of North and South Carolina. The hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm on Friday, with wind speeds dropping to 50 mph by 5 a.m. Saturday, but fierce rains were likely to produce “catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding,” the National Hurricane Center said. Nearly 1 million people have lost power.
Here are the latest developments:
— The center of the storm moved from North to South Carolina late Friday, leaving a path of devastation as it crawled inland at about 5 mph and dumped about 2 feet of rain in some areas. It is expected to head west through South Carolina before turning north.
— Officials have confirmed five deaths related to the storm, including a mother and child who were killed after a tree fell on their home in Wilmington, North Carolina, on Friday.
— Hundreds of residents of New Bern, North Carolina, were rescued from floods that inundated homes and swept away vehicles. More flooding is expected in eastern North Carolina as well as areas further inland, like Fayetteville and Charlotte, according to the National Weather Service.
Florence Brings Historic Floods
Waterways across the Carolinas and beyond swelled to record-breaking levels this week, with several rising more than 20 feet above their averages, according to National Weather Service data.
The Cape Fear and Lumber Rivers were forecast to rise as high or even higher than they did during Hurricane Matthew in 2016, North Carolina officials said.
Christian Dreyer has seen this kind of flooding before, and he knows that the worst is yet to come. As a volunteer member of a New Jersey search-and-rescue team, he helped pull people from rushing floodwaters in this part of North Carolina after Hurricane Matthew.
Now he is back with the same group, New Jersey Task Force 1, helping rescue people from their flooded homes in Washington, North Carolina, just north of New Bern. The crew got some people out in vehicles, but in other cases, they had to drive boats up to their front doors.
The flooding now is caused mostly by storm surge, as the swollen ocean pushes rivers over their banks. It is slow moving, Dreyer said, especially compared to the rushing floodwaters that will soon come from the opposite direction, down the rivers, as up to 40 inches of rain falls inland.
“A surge is like a bathtub flooding,” said Dreyer, who is also a sergeant first class with the New Jersey State Police, as tornado warnings went off in the background. “When it comes down from the mountains, it’s all gravity. It’s going to be much faster and more dangerous.”
Several Deaths Have Been Reported
Rescuers spent hours trying to reach the mother and infant who died in Wilmington after they were trapped by a tree and a portion of the roof that had collapsed on them, said J.S. Mason, a deputy fire chief. Mason said the two victims, who were not identified, died before they could be freed. The child’s father was transported to the New Hanover Regional Medical Center with unspecified injuries.
“The sheer size of the tree was not something you could quickly cut with a chain saw,” Mason said. “It was a very difficult rescue that required some technical equipment.”
A woman died of a heart attack Saturday morning in Hampstead, an unincorporated area of Pender County, North Carolina, officials said.
Emergency crews responding to a 911 call tried to reach the woman’s home but were delayed by downed trees on streets, said Chad McEwen, assistant county manager. They eventually used a front loader to clear the way, he said.
Authorities also reported the death of person who was killed while plugging in a generator in Lenoir County.
“Our hearts go out to the families of those who died in this storm,” Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina said. “Hurricane Florence is going to continue its violent grind across our state for days. Be extremely careful and stay alert.”