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 32 people in the Carolinas have died in the storm’s wreckage, including a 1-year-old boy ripped from his mother’s arms by the raging waters of a flooded creek. Two dozen of the deaths were in North Carolina, according to state officials and emergency workers.
“This is an epic storm that is still continuing,” Gov. Roy Cooper said. “The rivers are still rising. This is a monumental disaster for North Carolina.”
Wilmington, a coastal city of 120,000, has been deluged by 2 feet of rain since Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. Most traffic lights were out and homes dark. Flooding could get worse – the Cape Fear River was forecast to crest Tuesday.
Monday, 20 high-water trucks from Fort Bragg snaked through the city’s closed roads, packed with enough food and water for 60,000 people for four days, said Woody White, chairman of the board of commissioners in New Hanover County. Little other traffic could get in or out.
Still, White sounded a positive note.
“Things are getting better slowly, and we thank God for that,” White said.
Rain totals were historic. Elizabethtown, 50 miles to the northwest, rang up 36 inches of rain. Swansboro saw 34 inches; Gurganus, 50 miles north of Wilmington, also exceeded 30 inches.
The tragedies were widespread. Almost 200 miles to the west of Wilmington, the Union County Sheriff’s Office said swift water rescue teams on Monday recovered the body of 1-year-old Kaiden Lee-Welch. The boy was swept away from his mother after a flooded creek overwhelmed their car Sunday.
Flash flooding was a concern across much of North Carolina, northern South Carolina, and parts of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and into southern New England.
In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster warned it would be days until the cresting of rivers in the most worrisome area along the state’s border with North Carolina.
“Don’t drive around barricades or into standing water,” he said. “Roads are closed for your safety. Don’t unnecessarily put yourself in harm’s way.”
In North Carolina, downed lines and flooding slowed the process of restoring power. North Carolina Electric Cooperatives, providing power to about 25 percent of the state’s homes and businesses, reported that power had been restored to more than half of the “historic” 326,000 cooperative customers who went dark in the storm.
“Damage is so widespread that it could take this army of restoration personnel several more days or even weeks to fully restore power,” spokeswoman Kristie Aldridge said.
Dams and levees in areas pelted by Florence were showing signs of distress as rivers overran their banks and officials warned of more flooding to come. Landslides have become a concern as well – especially in North Carolina’s western mountains.
Emergency personnel performed hundreds of water rescues complicated by the closure of roads, including parts of interstates 95 and 40. Flooding and “catastrophic/historic river flooding” will continue over much of the Carolinas, the National Hurricane Center warned.
In New Bern, officials said Florence had damaged 4,200 homes and more than 300 commercial buildings, forcing 1,200 residents into shelters.
“Our city has suffered one of the worst storms ever in its 308-year history,” City Manager Mark Stephens said.
Tens of thousands faced mandatory evacuation orders from communities along the state’s steadily rising rivers – the Cape Fear, Little, Lumber, Waccamaw and Pee Dee rivers are all projected to overrun their banks. Thousands of residents have taken refuge in more than 100 shelters opened across the state.
“We are going to have to be smart about recovery and long-range planning,” Cooper said, adding that the “immediate concern is pulling people out of water.”
SOURCE: John Bacon and Jorge L. Ortiz