As Florence moves west, North Carolina prepares for recovery

Greg Lawrence
September 18, 2018

Though it was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane at landfall Friday and later weakened to a tropical storm, Florence remains a massive storm that will dump trillions of gallons of rain on eastern North Carolina before sweeping across SC.

Statewide, Duke Energy reported more than 58,000 without power in SC and more than 476,000 in the dark in North Carolina.

The Florence center is crawling inland over SC, but its main rain bands are hitting already-saturated North Carolina - setting up what may be days of flooding for some communities.

It has trapped people in flooded homes as citizen swift-water rescue teams from out of state join local emergency professionals around the clock to try and bring them to safety.

Florence was one of two major storms threatening millions of people on opposite sides of the world. On Saturday, the storm was crawling westward at about 2 miles per hour, unleashing havoc as it went.

The storm continued to crawl westward, dumping more than 30 inches of rain in spots since Friday, and fears of historic flooding grew.

"It is the water, it's the surge, it's the rain that effects and can kill you more than the wind can in a hurricane", FEMA Associate Administrator Jeff Byard warned on Saturday.

Picture of Hurricane Florence taken by astronaut Ricky Arnold from the International Space Station.

Florence is testing the faith of people in the Bible Belt town of Lumberton, South Carolina, where people had to be rescued from rooftops after flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew two years ago.

About 10 million people could be affected by the storm.

Parts of North and SC can expect an additional 10 to 15 inches.

At 2 p.m. Saturday, Florence was inching west at 3 mph (6 kph), with its center located about 50 miles (85 kilometers) west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Rains have been relentless, and Florence continues to dump a "catastrophic" amount of water in its path. "I was looking for water moccasins to hit me at any time", he said.

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On Sunday and Monday, the massive storm is forecast to shift north over eastern Tennessee and Kentucky, then West Virginia and Ohio.

As of noon, Emerald Isle had more than 23 inches (58 centimetres) of rain, and Wilmington and Goldsboro had about a foot (30 centimetres).

Florence had strengthened to a Category 4 storm earlier in the week, but was downgraded to a Category 1 on Thursday night. Dozens of electric fix trucks massed to respond to damage expected to hit central North Carolina as rainwater collected into rivers headed to the coast. Wilmington police tweeted that the father was transported to the hospital with unspecified injuries.

USA media later said a second man in Lenoir County died after heavy winds knocked him down as he tried to check on his dogs.

A mother and baby were killed after a large tree fell on their home in Wilmington, while in Pender County a woman died of a heart attack after storm debris prevented paramedics from reaching her. It's not yet clear how the sixth person died.

"We hope there are not more", Cooper said. "Be extremely careful and stay alert".

In New Bern, along the coast, aerial photos show homes completely surrounded by water, with rescuers using inflatable boats to go house to house to remove people. In sum, the storm is turning out to be every bit as devastating as forecasters expected, and it's far from done, with trillions of gallons of rain in the forecast, hundreds of people needing rescue, almost a million power outages and several deaths.

There had been three confirmed deaths from the storm and several others were being investigated to determine if they were storm-related, he said.

The city awoke Friday to the sound of exploding electrical transformers with strong gusts of wind throwing street signs and other debris as well as water in all directions.

"We are expecting several more days of rain, and our focus now is getting people away from immediate danger", North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said as the relenting storm puttered slowly west near the SC border.

"Flood waters are still raging across parts of our state", Cooper said.

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