Saturday, November 17, 2018

'Wherever you live in North Carolina, be alert for sudden flooding,' Gov. Cooper warns

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Drone footage surveys the damage caused by flooding in New Bern, N.C. The area was hit hard by Florence’s storm surge.
USA TODAY

Storm-weary residents of North Carolina struggled Monday to loosen the grip of Florence, the lingering killer that has closed more than 100 roads, cut off power to almost 500,000 homes and businesses and essentially cut off the city of Wilmington from the world.

At least 17 people have died in the wreckage of the hurricane-turned-tropical depression that dumped 30 inches of rain in parts of the state since last week. 

In Wilmington, officials were planning for food and water to be flown into the coastal city of almost 120,000 people. The National Weather Service has measured 23.59 inches of rain at the city’s airport since Thursday.

“Our roads are flooded,” said Woody White, chairman of the board of commissioners of New Hanover County. “There is no access to Wilmington.”

Dams and levees in areas pelted by Florence were showing signs of distress as rivers overran their banks and authorities warned of more flooding to come. Landslides have become a concern as well — especially in North Carolina’s western mountains.

Tens of thousands faced mandatory evacuation orders from communities along the state’s steadily rising rivers — with the Cape Fear, Little, Lumber, Waccamaw and Pee Dee rivers all projected to overrun their banks. Thousands of residents have taken refuge in more than 100 shelters opened across the state.

“You know it’s hard to leave home,” Gov. Roy Cooper said while touring a string of shelters across the state. “You miss it as soon as you walk out the door. But tens of thousands of North Carolinians have had to do that this week.”

 More: Coast Guard picks up a boat full of beagles during Florence rescue mission

More: Outer Banks wild horses make it through Hurricane Florence

The slow-moving storm was centered about 145 miles north of Greensboro, North Carolina, at 5 a.m. EDT Monday. “Flooding and catastrophic/historic river flooding will continue over a significant portion of the Carolinas,’’ the National Hurricane Center said.

Emergency personnel have performed more than 900 water rescues in North Carolina, according to the governor’s office, and hundreds more are awaiting help.

Efforts to rescue them were complicated by the closure of roads, including parts of interstates 95 and 40.

“The risk to life is rising with the angry waters,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said. “Wherever you live in North Carolina, be alert for sudden flooding.”

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A dam failure in Hoke County, North Carolina, west of Fayetteville, prompted officials to evacuate areas downstream and raised the specter of further such failures.

In Rowan County, north of Charlotte, a flash flood warning was issued Sunday night over concerns about the Lake Corriher levee, which had a partial breach.

In New Bern, North Carolina, the mayor said Florence had damaged 4,200 homes and more than 300 commercial buildings in his city, forcing 1,200 residents into shelters.

Those reports came amid news that a 3-month-old baby had died after a tree fell on a mobile home, part of another grim, soggy day as the Carolinas continued to take the brunt of the storm.

Eleven fatalities have been reported in North Carolina and six in South Carolina. Among the confirmed deaths: a man who drowned when a pickup truck flipped into a drainage ditch, a couple who died of carbon monoxide poisoning running a generator indoors, a woman whose vehicle hit a tree branch, a pickup truck driver who died after the vehicle struck a bridge support and another pickup driver who lost control of the vehicle and hit a tree.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster told reporters it would be days until the cresting of rivers in the most worrisome area, along the state’s border with North Carolina. Officials have been warning for days that flooding could be disastrous in the Yadkin-Pee Dee River Basin, into which several swollen rivers that originate in North Carolina flow.

Florence’s heavy rains have sent water levels rising so high that they have submerged instruments used by the federal government to monitor river levels in North Carolina, causing at least two of them to stop working.

The hurricane center said Florence may dump up to eight more inches of rain in some areas before heading north and dropping another 2-5 inches of rain to the mid-Atlantic states and southern New England.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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