NHC says Florence has weakened to a tropical storm

Theresa Obrien
September 17, 2018

More than 60 people had to be rescued in another town as a cinderblock motel collapsed at the height of the storm's fury.

In its initial onslaught along the coast, Florence buckled buildings, deluged entire communities and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses.

He said flooding will continue for days and the full magnitude of the hurricane is unknown. More than a dozen major rivers in the Carolinas and southern Virginia are forecast by the National Weather Service to reach flood stage, and some - including the Neuse, Pamlico, Lumber, Waccamaw, Northeast Cape Fear and the Pee Dee rivers - are expected to set all-time flood records.

Police in Wilmington say a mother and baby were killed when a tree fell on their house.

The hospital said it has received three injured patients.

Across the Trent River from New Bern, Jerry and Jan Andrews returned home after evacuating to find carp flopping in their backyard near the porch stairs. "I was definitely stranded", she said.

The storm's intensity held at about 90 miles per hour (144 kph), and it appeared that the north side of the eye was the most unsafe place to be as Florence moved ashore.

Hurricane Florence barrelled into the Carolina coast and moved inland on Friday, knocking down trees, overflowing rivers, dumping sheets of rain and leading to the death of five people before it was downgraded to a tropical storm still capable of wreaking havoc. But it was clear that this was really about the water, not the wind.

Hurricanes usually drive people away from Florida, but Florence is making the Sunshine State into a refuge for people from the Carolinas.

SC 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.

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For people living inland in the Carolinas, the moment of maximum peril from flash flooding could arrive days later, because it takes time for rainwater to drain into rivers and for those streams to crest.

Preparing for the worst, about 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians were deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats.

There are 62 industrial hog farms within North Carolina's 100-year floodplain, environmentalists estimate, and Duke Energy Corp has four coal ash sites in the coastal area touched by Florence.

Neighbor Adam Sparks said he noticed emergency responders arrive at the house across the street right around when his power went out and the storm was intensifying. Power outages are widespread including over 740,000 in North Carolina and 163,000 in SC. It tore roofs and facades off buildings and toppled trees.

The city was hit with a 105 miles per hour wind gust, the strongest wind recorded there since 1958. Airlines canceled more than 2,400 flights through Sunday.

More than 760,000 customers in North Carolina were without power and 21,000 people were being housed in 157 shelters across the state.

"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.

"If it goes up to my front step, I have to get out", Quintin Washington said. "We are stuck in the attic".

Boat teams including volunteers rescued some 360 residents, including Sadie Marie Holt, 67, who first tried to row out of her neighborhood during Florence's assault. "But there are a lot of big trees around so we preferred to spend the night at a friend's to be sure".

"We're in God's hands", said Rick Foreman, pastor at West Lumberton Baptist Church, as the Lumber River steadily rose Friday and local residents filled sandbags. "I wouldn't have left", Scott Baker told NPR outside the shelter at Trask Middle School in Wilmington, N.C. Baker lives in Wilmington, which was expected to receive the strongest wind and rain.

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