Tropical Storm Florence continued to thrash the Carolinas on Friday evening with fierce winds, driving rain and catastrophic flooding. Downgraded from hurricane strength after making landfall near Wilmington, North Carolina, the storm had killed at least four people, authorities said, and trapped hundreds of others whose rescues continued as night fell.
Among the dead were a mother and her infant child, who were killed in Wilmington, North Carolina, after a tree fell on their house, police said. More than 360 people had been rescued in the coastal city of New Bern, North Carolina, by Friday evening, and another 140 were in need of help, a city spokeswoman said.
Florence made landfall about 7:15 a.m. as a Category 1 hurricane, with winds of about 90 mph. By 5 p.m., it was about 50 miles west-southwest of Wilmington, and the wind had dropped to 70 mph.
Forecasters warned that the expected rainfall of up to 40 inches may be the real hazard from the storm, which was expected to slowly move southwest into South Carolina before turning north. The rains are anticipated to continue for days, and flooding is likely to worsen as more rivers spill over their banks. More than 600,000 people have lost power.
— Four deaths are linked to the storm
A mother and her infant were killed when a tree fell on their house in Wilmington, police said. The department, which did not release their names, said that the father of the child was transported to the New Hanover Regional Medical Center with injuries. The department did not give any information on how serious those injuries were.
Rescuers spent hours trying to reach the mother and infant who died in Wilmington after they were trapped by a tree and a portion of the roof that had collapsed on them, said J.S. Mason, a deputy fire chief. Mason said the two victims, who were not identified, died before they could be freed. The child’s father was taken to the New Hanover Regional Medical Center with unspecified injuries.
"The sheer size of the tree was not something you could quickly cut with a chain saw," Mason said. "It was a very difficult rescue that required some technical equipment."
A woman died of a heart attack this morning in Hampstead, an unincorporated area of Pender County, North Carolina, officials said.
Emergency crews responding to a 911 call tried to reach the woman’s home, but were delayed by downed trees on streets, said Chad McEwen, assistant county manager. They eventually used a front loader to clear the way, he said.
Authorities also reported the death of person who was killed while plugging in a generator in Lenoir County.
"Our hearts go out to the families of those who died in this storm," Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina said. "Hurricane Florence is going to continue its violent grind across our state for days. Be extremely careful and stay alert."
— 300 rescued, dozens more awaiting help as New Bern floods
Rescues continued throughout Friday in New Bern, North Carolina, a small city that sits at the confluence of two rivers that run into storm-swollen Pamlico Sound. More than 360 residents had been taken to safety by Friday afternoon, with 140 more still stranded.
"With the deterioration of the weather, people are calling back and saying, ‘The water is creeping back into my home. Can you please come get me?’" said Colleen Roberts, a spokeswoman for the city.
"New Bern has not seen a storm like this since the ‘50s," the city’s mayor, Dana Outlaw, said. "I think people just assume things like this just won’t happen."
"It’s everything that was predicted," he said.
New Bern officials, the mayor and aldermen had gone around low-lying neighborhoods Thursday urging people to leave and offering rides to shelters. Most did get out — the mayor estimated 70 percent — but not everyone.
"A lot of people, this is their whole lives and they had pride, and they did not want to leave," an alderwoman, Jameesha Harris, said. "Those same individuals that I knocked on their doors had family members calling me to say they’re on their roof."
The badly flooded areas are all around the town, not isolated to just one spot, Harris said: "Downtown is literally underwater."
— ‘I have never seen this much flooding’
New Bern is the largest city in Craven County, which has a population of 105,000. Some calls for rescue were also coming from outlying areas of the county, said Amber Parker, a county spokeswoman.
A resident, Gray Swindell, who lives about a quarter mile south of the Trent River, said, "I have never seen this much flooding in New Bern, and I have lived here 53 years."
Five swift-water rescue teams and volunteers were responding to calls from people who were stranded, Parker said. She said many calls were for multiple people in need of help, including one from a home in the low-lying Fairfield Harbor neighborhood, with nine people who were heading to the attic.
New Bern has been one of the hardest hit areas because of its location — where the Trent and Neuse rivers meet — and the direction of the storm. The city was one of the first areas to be hit by strong winds and heavy rain, both of which lasted all of Thursday afternoon and into Friday morning.
"The big key point with New Bern and our Outer Banks and the sounds is that the wind is directed right on shore," said Steve Pfaff, a meteorologist in the Nation Weather Service’s office in Wilmington. "It piles up. That water has nowhere to go."
Trent Court, a public housing complex that sits by the river, floods even in minor rainstorms, but it has never flooded quite like this.
— A warning that the threat is going to last for days
Cooper painted a grim picture of the destruction Florence was inflicting.
Wind gusts as high as 105 mph had been recorded near Wilmington. The state Highway Patrol had responded to 30 vehicle collisions and more than 100 calls for help. Hundreds of rescues had taken place already, and more were underway. Several state roads remained underwater and impassable in the coastal area.
The governor warned of forecasts that predicted 1,000-year rainfall in some areas — rainfall so severe it has a 1-in-1,000 chance of occurring in any given year. The state’s rivers are rising and will continue to rise, in some places to record levels, Cooper said. The ground is already saturated by recent rains, he said, raising the risk of flash flooding. He expected mudslides and rockslides as the storm moved inland. "It’s getting worse," Cooper said.
Federal Emergency Management Agency and other government officials said they were focusing on saving lives as they anticipated several more days of flooding and destruction.
The officials outlined a vast deployment of resources: 1,100 FEMA rescuers in North and South Carolina, 40 aircraft, more than 7,100 members of the Coast Guard, 500 medical personnel deployed to shelters, and the deployment of the National Guard of both Carolinas.
The officials also said swift water boats, high-water vehicles and a variety of rescue specialists were standing by. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was watching several dams in the area, but said they have the capacity to hold Florence’s rainfall.
— Waiting for the back half of the storm
Skippy Winner, an 84-year-old retired sea captain, spent Thursday night inside his fortified home in Carolina Beach, North Carolina, as Hurricane Florence raged outside. By 8:30 a.m. Friday, Winner was standing in his yard, surveying the damage from the storm as the eye wall passed over the exposed barrier island.
"I made it through the night just fine," he said in a telephone interview. "But I think there’s worse to come when we get the back side of the storm."
Forecasters have said Carolina Beach, a small, low-lying beach community south of Wilmington, North Carolina, was likely to bear the full brunt of the hurricane as the northeast quadrant of the storm spun south and west across the island after making landfall at Wrightsville Beach, just up the coast, shortly after 7 a.m. Friday.
Winner, who has ridden out every hurricane and nor’easter on the island since Hurricane Hazel in 1954, said that as the storm turns south, the island will be hit with fierce winds from the northeast once the eye passes. He said he learned to read storms and winds during his long career as a charter boat and head boat captain.
"We’re not through the worst of it yet — it’s going to be bad all along the whole coast," Winner said as he went back inside.
The powerful winds forced rescue teams to suspend operations in South Carolina’s Horry County, which includes Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach.
Jay Fernandez, director of public safety for North Myrtle Beach, said in a telephone interview that there was an order throughout the county to suspend operations after high winds began to place rescuers at risk.
"We have now halted emergency responses until storm conditions allow for personnel to respond safely," Fernandez said. "Luckily at this point there has been nobody I am aware of that has been trapped."
Stacy R. Stewart, a senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center, said Florence would continue to weaken as it moved west into South Carolina.
"We’re moving from a coastal threat of storm-surge flooding and strong winds to more of a heavy rainfall — very heavy rainfall — and a tornado threat as Florence moves farther inland," he said.September 14, 2018
As Hurricane Florence makes landfall in North Carolina, the rest of the tropics remains very active. Isaac has weakened to a tropical depression in the eastern Caribbean. Joyce and Helene are both tropical storms and are forecast to stay well away from the US. pic.twitter.com/R8TzFod8Ud— NWS Tampa Bay (@NWSTampaBay) September 14, 2018