September 24, 2018

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4 dead as Hurricane Florence drenches the Carolinas

WILMINGTON, N.C. - Blowing ashore with howling 90 mph (155 kph) winds, Florence splintered buildings, trapped hundreds of people and swamped entire communities along the Carolina coast Friday in what could be just the opening act in a watery, two-part, slow-motion disaster. At least four people were killed.

Forecasters warned that drenching rains of 1 to 3 1/2 feet (30 centimetres to 1 metre) as the hurricane-turned-tropical storm crawls westward across North and South Carolina could trigger epic flooding well inland over the next few days.

As 400-mile-wide (645-kilometre-wide) Florence pounded away at the coast with torrential downpours and surging seas, rescue crews used boats to reach more than 360 people besieged by rising waters in New Bern, while many of their neighbours awaited help. More than 60 people had to be rescued in another town as a cinderblock motel collapsed at the height of the storm's fury.

Florence flattened trees, crumbled roads and the assault wasn't anywhere close to being over, with the siege in the Carolinas expected to last all weekend. The storm knocked out power to more than 890,000 homes and businesses, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks the U.S. electrical grid.

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Waves slam the Oceana Pier & Pier House Restaurant in Atlantic Beach, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018 as Hurricane Florence approaches the area. (Travis Long /The News & Observer via AP)

Waves slam the Oceana Pier & Pier House Restaurant in Atlantic Beach, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018 as Hurricane Florence approaches the area. (Travis Long /The News & Observer via AP)

WILMINGTON, N.C. - Blowing ashore with howling 90 mph (155 kph) winds, Florence splintered buildings, trapped hundreds of people and swamped entire communities along the Carolina coast Friday in what could be just the opening act in a watery, two-part, slow-motion disaster. At least four people were killed.

Forecasters warned that drenching rains of 1 to 3 1/2 feet (30 centimetres to 1 metre) as the hurricane-turned-tropical storm crawls westward across North and South Carolina could trigger epic flooding well inland over the next few days.

As 400-mile-wide (645-kilometre-wide) Florence pounded away at the coast with torrential downpours and surging seas, rescue crews used boats to reach more than 360 people besieged by rising waters in New Bern, while many of their neighbours awaited help. More than 60 people had to be rescued in another town as a cinderblock motel collapsed at the height of the storm's fury.

Florence flattened trees, crumbled roads and the assault wasn't anywhere close to being over, with the siege in the Carolinas expected to last all weekend. The storm knocked out power to more than 890,000 homes and businesses, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks the U.S. electrical grid.

Mostly deserted, much of downtown Charleston, S.C. is boarded up and closed on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018 in advance of Hurricane Florence. (Matthew Fortner/The Post And Courier via AP)

Mostly deserted, much of downtown Charleston, S.C. is boarded up and closed on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018 in advance of Hurricane Florence. (Matthew Fortner/The Post And Courier via AP)

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper called Florence an "uninvited brute" that could wipe out entire communities as it grinds across the state.

"The fact is this storm is deadly and we know we are days away from an ending," Cooper said. Parts of North Carolina had seen storm surges — the bulge of seawater pushed ashore by the hurricane — as high as 10 feet (3 metres), he said.

A mother and baby were killed when a tree fell on a house, according to a tweet from Wilmington police. Also, a 77-year-old man was apparently knocked down by the wind and died after going out to check on his hunting dogs, Lenoir County authorities said, and the governor's office said a man was electrocuted while trying to connect extension cords in the rain.

Shaken after seeing waves crashing on the Neuse River just outside his house in New Bern, restaurant owner and hurricane veteran Tom Ballance wished he had evacuated.

"I feel like the dumbest human being who ever walked the face of the earth," he said.

UPDATED THU 5 A.M. Map shows probable path of Hurricane Florence. ; 1c x 2 1/2 inches; 46.5 mm x 63 mm;

UPDATED THU 5 A.M. Map shows probable path of Hurricane Florence. ; 1c x 2 1/2 inches; 46.5 mm x 63 mm;

After reaching a terrifying Category 4 peak of 140 mph (225 kph) earlier in the week, Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at 7:15 a.m. at Wrightsville Beach, a few miles (kilometres) east of Wilmington and not far from the South Carolina line. It came ashore along a mostly boarded-up, emptied-out stretch of coastline.

By Friday evening, Florence was downgraded to a tropical storm, its winds weakened to 70 mph (112 kph) as it moved forward at 3 mph (6 kph) about 15 miles (25 kilometres) north of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

But it was clear that this was really about the water, not the wind. Several places already had more than 16 inches (40 centimetres) of rain, and Oriental, North Carolina got more than 20 inches (50 centimetres) in just a few hours.

Florence's forward movement during the day slowed to a near-standstill — sometimes it was going no faster than a human can walk — and that enabled it to pile on the rain.

The flooding soon spread into South Carolina, swamping places like North Myrtle Beach, in a resort area known for its white sands and multitude of golf courses.

Heavy surf crashes the dunes at high tide in Nags Head, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018 as Hurricane Florence approaches the east coast. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Heavy surf crashes the dunes at high tide in Nags Head, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018 as Hurricane Florence approaches the east coast. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

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.

Authorities warned, too, of the threat of mudslides and the risk of an environmental disaster from floodwaters washing over industrial waste sites and hog farms.

Florence was seen as a major test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticized as slow and unprepared last year for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, where the death toll was put at nearly 3,000.

The National Hurricane Center said Florence will eventually break up over the southern Appalachians and make a right hook to the northeast, its rainy remnants moving into the mid-Atlantic states and New England by the middle of next week.

Members of law enforcement work with the National Guard to direct traffic onto U.S. Highway 501 as Hurricane Florence approaches the East Coast Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, near Conway, S.C. Time is running short to get out of the way of Hurricane Florence, a monster of a storm that has a region of more than 10 million people in its potentially devastating sights. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

Members of law enforcement work with the National Guard to direct traffic onto U.S. Highway 501 as Hurricane Florence approaches the East Coast Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, near Conway, S.C. Time is running short to get out of the way of Hurricane Florence, a monster of a storm that has a region of more than 10 million people in its potentially devastating sights. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

Meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com said Florence could dump a staggering 18 trillion gallons (68 trillion litres) of rain over a week on North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Maryland. That's enough to fill the Chesapeake Bay or cover the entire state of Texas with nearly 4 inches (10 centimetres) of water, he calculated.

North Carolina alone is forecast to get 9.6 trillion gallons (36 trillion litres), enough to cover the Tar Heel state to a depth of about 10 inches (25 centimetres).

On Friday, coastal streets in the Carolinas flowed with frothy ocean water, and pieces of torn-apart buildings flew through the air. The few cars out on a main street in Wilmington had to swerve to avoid fallen trees, metal debris and power lines.

A wind gust at the Wilmington airport was clocked at 105 mph (nearly 170 kph), the highest since Hurricane Helene in 1958. Nationwide, airlines cancelled more than 2,400 flights through Sunday.

In Jacksonville, North Carolina, next to Camp Lejeune, firefighters and police fought wind and rain as they went door-to-door to pull dozens of people out of the Triangle Motor Inn after the structure began to crumble and the roof started to collapse.

Police patrol past boarded up shops along the boardwalk in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, as Hurricane Florence approaches the east coast. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Police patrol past boarded up shops along the boardwalk in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, as Hurricane Florence approaches the east coast. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

In New Bern, population 29,000, flooding on the Neuse River left 500 people in peril.

"WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU," the city tweeted around 2 a.m. "You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU."

Boat teams including volunteers rescued some 360 residents, including Sadie Marie Holt, 67, who first tried to row out of her neighbourhood during Florence's assault.

"The wind was so hard, the waters were so hard, that trying to get out we got thrown into trailers. We got thrown into mailboxes, houses, trees," said Holt, who had stayed at home because of a doctor's appointment that was later cancelled. She retreated and was eventually rescued by a boat crew; 140 more awaited assistance.

Ashley Warren and boyfriend Chris Smith managed to paddle away from their home in a boat with their two dogs, and the experience left her shaken.

"Honestly, I grew up in Wilmington. I love hurricanes. But this one has been an experience for me," she said. "We might leave."


Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein in Washington; Allen G. Breed in New Bern, North Carolina; Jeffrey Collins in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Jennifer Kay in Miami; Tamara Lush in Jacksonville, Florida; Gary Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina; Sarah Rankin and Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Virginia; Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina; Skip Foreman in Charlotte, North Carolina; Jeff Martin in Hampton, Georgia; David Koenig in Dallas; Gerry Broome at Nags Head, North Carolina; and Jay Reeves in Atlanta contributed to this report.


For the latest on Hurricane Florence, visit https://www.apnews.com/tag/Hurricanes

More Images

Misty Murphrey and Jean Sugg place sand bags outside of White Allen on McLewean Street in Kinston Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 as the city awaits Hurricane Florence. (Janet S. Carter/Daily Free Press via AP) Residents at Trent Court Apartments wait out the weather as rising water gets closer to their doors in New Bern, N.C. Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. Hurricane Florence already has inundated coastal streets with ocean water and left tens of thousands without power, and more is to come. (Gray Whitley/Sun Journal via AP) Body surfer Andrew Vanotteren, of Savannah, Ga., crashes into waves from Hurricane Florence, Wednesday, Sept., 12, 2018, on the south beach of Tybee Island, Ga. Vanotteren and his friend Bailey Gaddis said the waves have gotten bigger and better every evening as the storm approaches. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton) High winds and storm surge from Hurricane Florence hits Swansboro N.C.,Friday, Sept. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Tom Copeland) In this photo released by the New Bern Police department, flood waters move near buildings in downtown New Bern, N.C. on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018 as Hurricane Florence comes ashore. (New Bern Police Department via AP) In this photo provided by Jordan Guthrie, wind and water from Hurricane Florence damages the highway leading off Harkers Island, N.C. on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018. (Jordan Guthrie via AP) A tree uprooted by strong winds lies across a street in Wilmington, N.C., after Hurricane Florence made landfall Friday, Sept. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton) In this photo released by the City of New Bern, N.C., a bear statue floats in flood waters on South Front street in New Bern, N.C. on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018. Hurricane Florence lumbered ashore in North Carolina with howling 90 mph winds and terrifying storm surge early Friday, ripping apart buildings and knocking out power to a half-million homes and businesses as it settled in for what could be a long and extraordinarily destructive drenching. (City of New Bern via AP) People walk through floodwaters caused by Hurricane Florence in downtown New Bern, N.C., on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Chris Seward) Waves from Hurricane Florence pound the Bogue Inlet Pier in Emerald Isle N.C., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Tom Copeland) A fallen tree is shown after it crashed through the home where a woman and her baby were killed in Wilmington, N.C., after Hurricane Florence made landfall Friday, Sept. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton) The mast of a sunken boat sits at a dock at the Grand View Marina in New Bern, N.C., on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018. Winds and rains from Hurricane Florence caused the Neuse River to swell, swamping the coastal city. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed) Rescue team member Sgt. Nick Muhar, from the North Carolina National Guard 1/120th battalion, evacuates a young child as the rising floodwaters from Hurricane Florence threatens his home in New Bern, N.C., on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Chris Seward) A rescue team from the North Carolina National Guard 1/120th battalion evacuates an elderly woman from her apartment as the rising floodwaters from Hurricane Florence threatens her home in New Bern, N.C., on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Chris Seward) A bulldozer drives along Vernon Avenue as strong winds and rain fall from Hurricane Florence Friday, Sept. 14, 2018 in Kinston, N.C. (Janet S. Carter/Daily Free Press via AP) A work truck drives on Hwy 24 as the wind from Hurricane Florence blows palm trees in Swansboro N.C., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Tom Copeland)

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