A day after blowing ashore with 90 mph winds, Hurricane Florence practically parked itself over land all day long and poured on the rain. With rivers swelling toward record levels, thousands of people were ordered to evacuate for fear the next few days could bring the most destructive round of flooding in North Carolina history.
More than 2 feet of rain had fallen in places, and the drenching went on and on, with forecasters saying there could be an additional 1½ feet before Sunday is out.
“I cannot overstate it: floodwaters are rising, and if you aren’t watching for them, you are risking your life,” Governor Roy Cooper said.
As of 11 p.m., Florence was centered about 40 miles east-southeast of Columbia, South Carolina, and crawling west at 3 mph – not even as fast as a person walking. Its winds were down to 40 mph. But with half of the storm still out over the Atlantic, Florence continued to collect warm ocean water and dump it onshore.
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. But the storm was shaping up as a two-part disaster, with the second, delayed stage triggered by rainwater working its way into rivers and streams. The flash flooding could devastate communities and endanger dams, roads and bridges.
Stream gauges across the region showed water levels rising steadily, with forecasts calling for rivers to crest Sunday and Monday at or near record levels. The Little River, the Cape Fear, the Lumber, the Neuse, the Waccamaw and the Pee Dee were all projected to overrun their banks, possibly flooding cities and towns.
Authorities ordered the immediate evacuation of up to 7,500 people living within a mile of a stretch of the Cape Fear River and the Little River, about 100 miles from the coast. The evacuation zone included part of the City of Fayetteville, population 200,000. Record flooding is expected Tuesday on the Cape Fear at a crest of 62 feet there.
In the Fayetteville area, John Rose owns a furniture business with stores less than a mile (1.6 kilometers) away from the Cape Fear River. He moved quickly as workers helped him empty more than 1,000 mattresses from a warehouse in a low-lying strip mall. “If the river rises to the level they say it’s going to, then this warehouse is going to be under water,” he said.
And on Saturday evening, Duke Energy said heavy rains caused a slope to collapse at a coal ash landfill at a closed power station outside Wilmington, North Carolina. Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said about 2,000 cubic yards (1,530 cubic meters) of ash were displaced at the Sutton Plant and that contaminated storm water likely flowed into the plant’s cooling pond.
The company hasn’t yet determined whether any contamination entered the Cape Fear River. Sutton was retired in 2013 and the company has been excavating ash to remove to safer lined landfills. The ash left behind when coal is burned contains toxic heavy metals, including lead and arsenic.
One potential road out was blocked as flooding forced the shutdown of a 16-mile stretch of Interstate 95, the main route along the Eastern Seaboard.
In New Bern , along the coast, homes were completely surrounded by water, and rescuers used inflatable boats to reach people.
Kevin Knox and his family were rescued from their flooded brick home with the help of Army Sgt. Johan Mackie, whose team used a phone app to locate people in distress. Mackie rode in a boat through a flooded neighborhood, navigating through trees and past a fencepost to reach the Knox house.
“Amazing. They did awesome,” said Knox, who was stranded with seven others, including a boy carried out in a life vest.
New Bern spokeswoman Colleen Roberts said 455 people in all were rescued in the town of 30,000 residents without any serious injuries or deaths. But thousands of buildings were damaged in destruction Roberts called “heart-wrenching.”
- At least 14 deaths from the storm have been confirmed, including a man and a woman in Houry County who died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Swansboro, N.C. has now received more than 30 inches of rain; several other have received more than 20 inches
- Florence is causing flash flooding and major river flooding over a “significant portion” of North and South Carolina, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
- Life-threatening, catastrophic flash floods and prolonged significant river flooding are possible in portions of North Carolina, South Carolina and the southern to central Appalachias to western North Carolina to west-central Virginia and far-eastern West Virginia into early next week, the National Weather Service said.
- Landslides are also possible in the higher terrain of the southern and central Appalachias across western North Carolina into southwestern Virginia as Florence moves inland.
- Water levels along the North and South Carolina coasts are gradually receding as of Saturday night, the National Hurricane Center said.
- Nearly 1 million homes and businesses lost power in North and South Carolina
- A couple of tornadoes are still possible through Sunday in North Carolina and northeastern South Carolina, the NHC said.