Days of flooding ahead in the Carolinas as Florence leaves at least 5 dead

Posted at 8:58 AM, Sep 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-15 10:58:05-04

(CNN) — Tropical Storm Florence’s relentless rain is causing devastating flooding in the Carolinas and promises even more for days, forecasters said Saturday, a day after it landed as a hurricane and left at least five people dead — including a baby.

“What we’re dealing here with is a major flooding and rain event. … The flooding is far from over,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official Neil Jacobs said Saturday morning.

The storm’s center is crawling inland over South Carolina, but its main rain bands are over already-saturated North Carolina — setting up what may be days of flooding for some communities.

“The same places have seen all of this water, and the same places will see more water,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said Saturday morning.

Inland North and South Carolina look to have serious flooding to come, with waters already rising in communities such as Conway near Myrtle Beach — and some rivers may not crest for another three days.

Florence crashed ashore Friday morning in North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane, and it has wiped out power to about 950,000 customers in that state and South Carolina.

It has trapped people in flooded homes, with citizen swift-water rescue teams from out of state joining local emergency professionals around the clock to try and bring them to safety.

The storm will dump rain in the Carolinas through the weekend, overwhelming rivers, before reaching the Ohio Valley.

Key developments
• Florence’s location: By 8 a.m. Saturday, Florence’s center was 35 miles west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph. It was moving west at 2 mph, the National Weather Service said.

• Winds: Florence’s tropical storm-force winds (at least 39 mph) extend 175 miles from its center.

• No electricity: About 786,000 customers are without power in North Carolina, emergency officials said. In neighboring South Carolina, 165,000 customers are without power, officials said.

• Trapped and rescued: In hard-hit New Bern, North Carolina, rescuers have plucked more than 400 people from homes surrounded by rising waters, and about 100 others are awaiting rescue, Mayor Dana Outlaw said Saturday morning.

• Much flooding to come: By storm’s end, up to 40 inches of rain will have fallen in parts of North Carolina and far northeastern South Carolina, setting up catastrophic flash flooding and river flooding, the National Hurricane Center said. Some other parts of South Carolina could see rainfall totals of up to 15 inches, forecasters said. Florence “will produce catastrophic flooding over parts of North and South Carolina for some time,” NOAA official Steve Goldstein said Saturday morning.

• Rising rivers: Rivers in North Carolina are expected to crest higher than during 2016’s Hurricane Matthew in some areas, emergency officials said.

At least 5 have been killed
Florence has left at least five people dead, including a mother and her child who died after a tree fell on their house in Wilmington, North Carolina, police said. The father was hospitalized with injuries.

In Hampstead, North Carolina, emergency responders going to a call for cardiac arrest found their path blocked by downed trees. When they got to the home, the woman was dead, authorities said.

Two men were also killed in Lenoir County, North Carolina. One was electrocuted while hooking up a generator and the other while checking on his dogs outside, emergency officials said..

Earlier Saturday, officials in North Carolina’s Carteret County said two people were dead as a result of the storm. They later clarified those deaths were not related to Florence.

She called 911. No one came
Those who stayed behind gave harrowing accounts of getting trapped in their homes surrounded by water.

Annazette Riley-Cromartie said she and her family thought they’d be safe in their brick house in eastern North Carolina. But the water kept rising.

She, her husband and three children escaped into the attic, but the winds howled, and the family fled to an upper floor bedroom.

As they waited for emergency workers, they heard neighbors screaming for help. Her 6-foot-2 husband went to see what he could do, but the water was above his chest, she said.

“It’s the worst feeling in the world to hear people yelling for help, and you can’t do anything,” she said.

She said she called 911, but no one came. Eventually, a volunteer rescue team from Indiana arrived with a boat and rescued them.

Rising waters are expected to get worse
The worst is likely yet to come for places such as Conway, South Carolina, about 15 miles inland from Myrtle Beach.

Water was rising Saturday morning in a flood plain near the Waccamaw River, lapping up against homes and pooling over at least one main road.

It’s not just rain in the local area that will torment Conway, forecasters warn. Rain draining from upriver, especially from hard-hit North Carolina, will come down rivers such as the Waccamaw, which isn’t expected to crest in Conway for another three to five days.

In Lumberton, North Carolina, volunteers are working to try to prevent a repeat of what happened with 2016’s Hurricane Matthew, which left that city submerged in water for days.

Volunteers and city workers have been filling sandbags, trying to plug a low point in the city’s levee system.

But the levee will be under pressure for some time. The Lumber River was near minor flood stage Saturday morning at 12.24 feet — but it’s expected to be past major flood stage (19 feet) from Sunday morning into at least Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.

States of emergency
Rainfall totals for the storm will be similar to those in hurricanes Dennis and Floyd in 1999, the National Weather Service’s Chris Wamsley said

“The only difference is, back then it was within 14 days,” he said. With Florence, it’ll be the same amount of rainfall in three days.

Officials in several states have declared states of emergency, including in the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland, where coastal areas are still recovering from summer storms.

Sign up for Florence alerts

Florence is one of four named storms in the Atlantic. According to the National Hurricane Center, the storm will travel through upstate South Carolina, be downgraded to a tropical depression, then turn north toward the Ohio Valley.

As it moves near Ohio and West Virginia, it will become a remnant low. Then it will swing to the northeast in the middle of next week on a path to the Atlantic Ocean near Nova Scotia, where it will be an extratropical low with gale-force winds.