Published On: Sun, Sep 16th, 2018

Storm Florence death toll rises to 13, with Carolinas bracing for severe inland flooding

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Florence, now blamed for the deaths of 13 people, weakened to a tropical depression early Sunday, but officials warned that its heavy rains will continue to cause a lot more flooding of rivers over a significant portion of the Carolinas.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said excessive amounts of rain are still being dumped in North Carolina and the effect is expected to be “catastrophic.” An elevated risk of landslides is now expected in western North Carolina.

Officials reported two more deaths in South Carolina, a couple who died of apparent carbon monoxide poisoning after using a generator inside their home during the storm. The bodies of 63-year-old Mark Carter King and 61-year-old Debra Collins Rion were found in a Loris, S.C., home Saturday afternoon.

The storm continued to weakened as it swept through the Carolinas, but only after knocking out power to nearly a million homes and businesses.

“Avoid complacency,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper urged people on Saturday. “Even though the storm has been downgraded, the rainfall will still be epic.”

A house is seen on Saturday, flooded by rain, after the storm swept through the town of Wallace, N.C. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

“This is still a catastrophic, life-threatening storm,” said Zack Taylor, a meteorologist with the U.S. National Weather Center’s Weather Prediction Center.

“It has already dumped 20-to-30 inches of rain on parts of the Carolinas with more to come,” he said. “And many of the rivers will see prolonged flooding, some not cresting for a few days.”

Winds have dropped to about 55 km/h since it roared ashore on Friday as a hurricane and it is crawling west over two states at 9 km/h, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said early Sunday.

“This storm is still deadly and dangerous and it’s expected to turn northward later today into Virginia and the mid-Atlantic,” he said.

Around 50 stranded people were airlifted by helicopter in North Carolina, said Petty Officer Michael Himes of the U.S. Coast Guard. More than 26,000 hunkered down in shelters.

Roads were closed and authorities warned of landslides, tornadoes and flash floods, with dams and bridges in peril as rivers and creeks swelled. As of Saturday, about 676,000 homes and businesses were without power in North Carolina, along with 119,000 in South Carolina.

The White House said President Donald Trump approved making federal funding available in some affected counties.

Trump, who plans to visit the region this week and he tweeted his “deepest sympathies and warmth” to the families and friends of those who had lost their lives.

Worst yet to come

Florence was drifting westward over South Carolina, reaching about 30 kilometres southeast of Columbia S.C., at 5 a.m. Sunday, the NHC said.

Up to a metre of rain is expected along coastal areas of the Carolinas and up to 250 millimetres in southwestern Virginia, it said.

An abandoned car’s hazard lights continue to flash as it sits submerged in rising floodwaters early Sunday in Wilmington, N.C. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters )

In Fayetteville, a North Carolina city of about 210,000 people about 140 kilometres inland, authorities told thousands of residents near the Cape Fear River and Little River to get out of their homes by Sunday afternoon because of the flood risk.

“If you are refusing to leave during this mandatory evacuation, you need to do things like notify your legal next of kin because the loss of life is very, very possible,” Mayor Mitch Colvin said at a news conference.

“The worst is yet to come,” he added.

The storm made landfall on Friday near Wilmington, a city of about 120,000 squeezed between North Carolina’s Atlantic coastline and the Cape Fear River.

Near the Sutton Power Plant in Wilmington, coal ash leaked from a Duke Energy landfill. The site lost enough material to fill around two-thirds of an Olympic-sized pool, the company said in a statement, adding that it did not believe the incident posed a risk to health or the environment.

Officials had warned before the storm rains could taint waterways with murky coal ash and toxic hog waste.

Florence has already set a North Carolina record for rainfall totals, exceeding that of Hurricane Floyd, which struck in 1999 and caused 56 deaths.

Watch CBC’s Ellen Mauro speak to a man who rode out the storm:

CBC’s Ellen Mauro speaks with a resident of Wilmington, N.C., after his community was pummelled by tropical storm Florence. 2:18

In New Bern, about 140 kilometres northeast of Wilmington at the confluence of two rivers, Florence overwhelmed the town of 30,000 and left the downtown area under water.

“It was pitch black and I was just scared out of my mind,” said Tracy Singleton, who with her family later fled her home near New Bern.

South Carolina authorities said law enforcement officers were guarding against looting in evacuated areas, while Wilmington set a curfew on Saturday evening in response to looting in one area.

As the United States dealt with Florence, a super typhoon made landfall in China’s Guangdong on Sunday after barrelling past Hong Kong and Macau and killing at least 29 people in the Philippines.

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