Hurricane Florence Latest: 'This Is Not The End Of It'
- May 12, 2020
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Hurricane Florence continued to pummel North Carolina early Saturday morning during a slow, devastating march that slapped the state’s coastal counties with torrential rain and heavy winds that together killed five people, knocked out power to more than 760,000 customers, caused massive flooding across entire towns and sent rescue workers on hundreds of missions to save people from the attics and rooftops of submerged homes.
Florence made landfall at about 7:15 Friday at Wrightsville Beach as a Category 1 hurricane and was downgraded to tropical storm status a few hours before its center officially crossed into South Carolina at nightfall. By Saturday morning, it was about 25 miles west of Myrtle Beach, S.C., and its winds had dropped to 60 m.p.h.
Officials, though, issued a stark warning to people in both states and beyond: the danger and destruction from wind and water are far from over and “catastrophic flooding” is expected on the coast and far inland.
“Life-threatening, catastrophic flash floods and prolonged significant river flooding are likely over portions of the Carolinas and the southern to central Appalachians from western North Carolina into southwest Virginia through early next week, as Florence moves slowly inland,” the National Hurricane Center said Friday in an 11 p.m. bulletin. “In addition to the flash flood and flooding threat, landslides are also possible in the higher terrain of the southern and central Appalachians across western North Carolina into southwest Virginia.”
Even as the storm’s center lumbered into South Carolina, the system’s breadth kept a large portion of it over North Carolina, where it continued to drop torrential rains Saturday while moving west at only 5 miles per hour, barely faster than a human walks. That slow movement, combined with the storm’s mammoth size — it contained a zone of tropical-storm-force winds nearly 400 miles wide as of early Saturday morning— has been responsible for rain measurements of one- to two-feet some areas of North Carolina with much more to come.
Another 25 inches was forecast to fall on the North Carolina coast and the far northeastern counties of South Carolina over the next couple days, and up to 10 inches could hit the remainder of those states and southwest Virginia, causing flash flooding and walls of storm surge in several areas.
Weathermodels.com forecast rainfall from Florence will total 17 trillion gallons —as much water as there is in the entire Chesapeake Bay, and enough to cover the entire state of Texas with nearly 4 inches of rain — over the Carolinas and Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Maryland in a seven-day period.. (Hurricane Harvey’s total was about 24 trillion gallons over Texas and Louisiana.)
The Cape Fear River in Fayetteville, about 100 miles from the coast, is expected to flood more than 20 feet above its banks.
“The sun rose this morning on an extremely dangerous situation, and it’s getting worse,” Gov. Roy Cooper said at a Friday news conference, imploring North Carolinians to continue to be on guard. “The storm is going to continue its violent grind across our state for days, and be a major inland event as well.”
In all, about 5 million people throughout the region will see 10 inches of rain or more over the next few days, according to the National Hurricane Center. The heavy rains are expected to cover an area hundreds of miles wide and includes the cities of Fayetteville, Charlotte and Myrtle Beach, among many others.
Additional power outages are likely and restoration for some people could take weeks. .
At least five people, all in North Carolina, have died as a result of the storm.
A woman and her baby died when a tree fell onto their home, police in Wilmington said. A woman in Pender County woman died of a heart attack when rescue workers were blocked from getting to her and another two people, both in their 70s, were killed in Lenoir County, one while trying to connect two extension cords outside in the rain, and the other when he went outside to check on his hunting dogs and was blown down by wind, authorities said.
Two people killed when tree crashes into home in Wilmington. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
“This is only the beginning,” said Chris Wamsley of the National Weather Service. “We’ve already seen a foot of rain just north of Wilmington area. We’re still expecting rainfall amounts of 20 to 30 inches, some isolated spots of 40 inches.”
Jeff Byard, FEMA associate administrator, warned people to expect the storm to keep pummeling the Carolinas.
“This is not the end of it,” he said at a briefing Friday. “Twenty-four to 36 hours remain of a significant threat from heavy rain, heavy surge, not just in North Carolina but obviously down as we move in to South Carolina.”
Florence packed winds of 90 mph and dumped 3 inches of rain an hour when it made landfall Friday.
Electric companies warned that power may not be restored for some people for several days; others could be without electricity for weeks.
“We expect outages to be extended throughout the weekend and weeks to come in many areas,” Four County EMC said in a statement after more than 27,000 of its customers lost electricity. “Due to the severity of storm and the safety of our crews we will not be sending out any crews until conditions improve. We do not have a restoration time for any area.”
More than 480,000 Duke Energy customers in North Carolina were without power Friday as were about another 20,000 people it serves in South Carolina; the company said its workers have not yet been able to assess damage to provide an estimate for restoration.
Volunteers from all over North Carolina help rescue residents from their flooded homes in New Bern, North Carolina. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Florence already has caused massive flooding. About 200 people in the city of New Bern were rescued from rising flood waters Friday morning. The city is located between two rivers, including the Neuse River that reported 10 feet of inundation from the enormous storm system.
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About 70 people were rescued from a North Carolina hotel overnight after Florence punched basketball-sized hole in the wall of the structure and threatened its integrity. Some cinder blocks were crumbling and the roof was collapsing.
“This storm went from zero to crazy in no time,” veteran storm chaser Aaron Rigsby told CBS News, noting a “tremendous” amount of flying debris that included sheet metal and roofs.
“We were sitting maybe with maybe 30 mph gusts and then all of a sudden we started getting blasted with 80 mph winds,” Rigsby said. “We had winds sustained at 80, 90 mph gusting up to 100 mph.”
As Florence meanders inland, the storm could swamo all but a thin sliver of the coast. Given its size and sluggish track, Florence could cause the same epic level of flooding that swamped Houston during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago. If that happens, floodwaters could wash over industrial waste sites and hog manure lagoons and cause catastrophic environmental damage.
Rigsby said Florence is behaving a lot like Hurricane Harvey when it squatted over Texas and Louisiana last year.
“The thing that’s so similar about this, not necessarily the intensity, is it’s behaving a lot like Hurricane Harvey last year, how it’s just kind of parking here, slowly moving, dumping tremendous amounts of rain and some of these areas could see 20 to even 30 inches of rain by the time it’s all said and done,” he said.
Even normally dry areas near the coast could be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline.
FLOODING MOST DEADLY HURRICANE THREAT
“It cannot be emphasized enough that the most serious hazard associated with slow-moving Florence is extremely heavy rainfall, which will cause disastrous flooding that will be spreading inland through the weekend,” the National Hurricane Center said in its 5 p.m. update Friday.
About 90 percent of hurricane-related deaths are related to flooding, the hurricane center said.
“It truly is really about the whole size of this storm,” hurricane center Director Ken Graham said. “The larger and the slower the storm is, the greater the threat and the impact — and we have that.”
The National Weather Service said Florence is likely “a storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast, and that’s saying a lot given the impacts we’ve seen from Hurricanes Diana, Hugo, Fran, Bonnie, Floyd, and Matthew.”
Speaking from Moscow Friday after the storm made landfall, Energy Secretary Rick Perry said the U.S. electricity sector has been well prepared for Hurricane Florence.
“We’ve done this many times before,” he said. “We know how to manage expectations. We know how to prepare our plants for these types of major events.”
Perry says his department has been in contact with power companies and gas pipeline operators.
“Over the years the state government and the federal government have become very coordinated in their ability to manage the pre-deployment of assets (and) the response to the citizens of those states, and we will soon be into the recovery,” he said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, warned this is no ordinary storm.
Some 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate and not press their luck as the storm approached, but it’s unclear how many left.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster estimated Thursday that 420,000 people had evacuated.
A TEST FOR FEMA
Hurricane Florence is testing the readiness of the Trump administration to respond to the storm’s destruction. FEMA, which coordinates the federal response in natural disasters, received scorching criticism last year for its response to Hurricane Maria, which killed nearly 3,000 — a count President Trump disputed, saying Democrats inflated the toll to make him look bad.
Trump has tried to assure people in the Carolinas that the government is “totally prepared.”
“We’re ready,” he said. “We’re as ready as anybody has ever been.”
TIDAL FLOODING EXPECTED ELSEWHERE
Trump declared states of emergency for North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, paving the way for federal assistance. All three states have ordered mass evacuations along the coast and several major airlines have issued travel advisories for fliers traveling from, to and through numerous airports in the Southeast.
Cellphone carriers Sprint and Verizon have waived overage fees for customers in the Carolinas and Virginia.
In addition to the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland and Georgia remain under states of emergency. The state of emergency has been lifted in Washington, D.C., and Virginia has rescinded its evacuation order.
Maryland officials say that while the state seems likely to escape strong winds, residents should remain prepared for any residual impact from the storm. The National Weather Service says that the Eastern Shore will still feel significant impacts including strong winds, moderate to major tidal flooding and heavy rain, and could last through the weekend.
In Georgia, only about an inch of rain is expected in the metro Atlanta area, and that won’t come until Sunday night. The storm did cause the University of Georgia to move up the starting time of Saturday’s game at Sanford Stadium against Middle Tennessee from 7:15 pm to noon.
The Associated Press and Patch staff writers Dan Hampton, Kimberly Johnson, Deb Belt and Dan Taylor contributed reporting.
PHOTO: Michael Nelson floats in a boat made from a metal tub and fishing floats after the Neuse River went over its banks and flooded his street in New Bern, North Carolina. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)