- Hurricane Florence is tearing through the Carolinas with disastrous flooding and record-setting rainfall.
- “We just don’t want people to think this is over because it’s not. It’s not anywhere,” North Carolina governor Roy Cooper said on Saturday.
- The storm has killed a reported 17 people so far, and officials expect the death toll to rise.
- Though Florence was classified as a tropical depression on Sunday, the storm still threatens severe flooding of rivers and roads across North and South Carolina.
- The biggest threat is from flooding, and hundreds of people were being rescued from their homes.
The storm has already left at least a reported 17 people dead and knocked out power for more than a million residents.
As of Sunday evening, Florence was moving north at 10 mph, with winds at a speed of 30 mph. Hurricane categories are based on wind speed, so Florence’s downgrade to a tropical depression doesn’t express how dangerous the storm still is.
Flash flood warnings are currently in effect in across large portions of southern and western North Carolina, according to the National Weather Service, as well as portions of northeast South Carolina and southwest Virginia.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned in a briefingSaturday morning that more people in the state are in danger now than when Florence made landfall there on Friday.
“The rainfall is epic and will continue to be,” he said. “We just don’t want people to think this is over, because it’s not. It’s not anywhere.”
Cooper warned on Sunday: “I cannot overstate it: Floodwaters are rising, and if you aren’t watching for them, you are risking your life.”
Floodwaters closed major North Carolina highways on Saturday and Sunday, and the state Department of Transportation urged drivers to stay off all roads south of US 64 and east of I-73/74, including I-95. South Carolina also closed parts of I-95 near the North Carolina border.
NCDOT even suggested people who planned to drive through North Carolina from other states on Sunday avoid the state entirely, and pass through Tennessee instead.
???? We understand that many of you are anxious to return home. However, road conditions are worsening as rivers and creeks rise. Flash flooding and falling debris are unpredictable. If you're safe, please stay put until officials tell you it's safe to return. #FlorenceNC pic.twitter.com/YlEFicwgnF
— NCDOT (@NCDOT) September 15, 2018
According to Duke Energy, the main energy provider in the Carolinas, 450,000 customers remain without power as of Sunday afternoon. The company had restored power to another 830,000 customers.
“Our crews during the past 24 hours have made significant progress restoring power in areas of the Carolinas where it is safe to do,” said Duke Energy incident commander Howard Fowler.
“However, we unfortunately have been unable to make repairs in some of the hardest-hit coastal areas due to continuing high winds and road access problems caused by major flooding,” he added.
The death toll rises
The storm has killed at least 17 people, according to The Washington Post. Authorities expect the death toll to rise in the coming days.
A mother and baby died when a tree crashed into their home, the Wilmington Police Department said on Twitter Friday afternoon. A 78-year-old man was killed while trying to connect extension cords outside in the rain, ABC News reported, citing Lenoir County Emergency Services Director Roger Dail.
Another man was blown away by strong winds while outside checking on his dogs. The man’s family found his body Friday morning, according to Dail.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Raleigh, North Carolina, also confirmed Saturday that an 81-year-old man in Wayne County fell and fatally struck his head while packing to evacuate the previous day, according to the Associated Press.
The office also said a husband and wife died in a house fire on Friday in Cumberland County.
President Donald Trump tweeted out condolences to the families of the dead on Saturday, mistakenly saying there were only five deaths after authorities had already raised the toll.
“Five deaths have been recorded thus far with regard to hurricane Florence! Deepest sympathies and warmth go out to the families and friends of the victims. May God be with them!” Trump tweeted.
The storm was also a factor in the death of a woman who suffered a heart attack since emergency crews couldn’t reach her due to a fallen tree, as The Wall Street Journal reported.
The water is the biggest threat
On Sunday, the center of the storm is hovering over central South Carolina, after making landfall at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, on Friday.
But the wind is not the main threat to people and property from the storm; it’s the storm surge and rainfall, which combined have caused serious flooding in the low-lying coastal regions of the Carolinas.
“The flood danger from storm is more immediate today than when it made landfall 24 hrs ago,” North Carolina Emergency Management said on Twitter Saturday. “We face walls of water. More ppl now face a threat than when the storm was offshore. Flood waters are rising, & if you aren’t watching for them, you are risking life.”
In total, Florence is forecast to dump about 18 trillion gallons of rain over North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Maryland before the storm is over. That’s enough water to fill the Chesapeake Bay or to cover the state of Texas in 4 inches.
And the deluge is not even close to over – parts of North Carolina are set to receive another 15 inches of rain in the coming days, according to The National Weather Service.
Some rivers in North Carolina, many of which are already overflowing, aren’t expected to crest until Monday or Tuesday, so some areas likely haven’t seen the worst of the flooding yet.
How hurricanes like Florence form
As of Sunday evening, the storm had dumped 40 inches of rain in parts of North Carolina. Swansboro, a town near North Carolina’s coast, received 30.59 inches of rainfall, setting a record for tropical storm-associated rainfall in the state, meteorologist David Roth said.
“Nobody expected this,” a rescued resident, Tom Ballance, told The Weather Channel. “We were fools.”
Flash flooding risk
Life-threatening, catastrophic flash floods and prolonged, significant river flooding will continue to be the greatest risk in the coming days, according to The National Hurricane Center.
In addition to flash flooding, The National Hurricane Center warned on Sunday that landslides are also possible in the mountainous areas across Western North Carolina and Virginia.
The map below shows where the greatest risk of flooding is:
Dana Varinsky contributed reporting.
Read more of Business Insider’s Hurricane Florence coverage:
- Photos and videos show the flooding and devastation from Hurricane Florence
- Officials rescued 455 people from this small North Carolina town after Florence’s floodwaters stranded people in their homes
- Hurricane Florence’s rains eroded a coal ash landfill in North Carolina, possibly releasing enough ash to fill 180 dump trucks
- Firefighters knelt and prayed outside a North Carolina home where a mother and her baby were killed in Hurricane Florence
- Lowe’s and Home Depot have emergency command centres monitoring Florence and thousands of trucks loaded and ready to go to stores in the storm’s path
- Weather Channel video illustrates the horrifying reality of towering floodwater in North Carolina
- Why Hurricane Florence’s rains are so intense
- What a storm surge is and why it forms
- How hurricanes like Florence form
- The 14 most important things you should do to prepare for a hurricane