RALEIGH — Five days of soaking rain across much of North Carolina has swollen rivers, quenched drought and cost at least four lives.
The back-to-back storms that have blown through since Sunday dumped more than a foot of rain on some areas east of Interstate 95 by Thursday night.
Wilmington got more than 21 inches, topping the 19 inches that fell during Hurricane Floyd in 1999. That's the highest rainfall total seen in the city during the 140 years that records have been kept, according to the National Weather Service.
The deluge came as a low pressure system from the west mixed with the remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole, which dissipated over the straits of Florida on Wednesday.
Though the storm has not caused the catastrophic flooding seen a decade ago, there were widespread reports Thursday of rivers topping their banks.
The precipitation is expected to taper off by this morning, but floodwaters are expected to continue to rise through the weekend before cresting.
"Don't drive through water flowing across the road," warned Hal Austin, a meteorologist stationed at weather service station near Morehead City. "Take an alternate route, or, better yet, just stay home."
Four members of a Georgia family died Thursday when their SUV slid off U.S. 64 in Washington County shortly after noon and flipped into a flooded ditch.
The family's Jeep Grand Cherokee struck standing water on the road, causing it to hydroplane and overturn, according to the N.C. Highway Patrol. The vehicle ran off the right hand side of the road and into a ditch about three miles east of Creswell, filling with water.
The dead included the driver, Daniel Alvarez, 27; Natalie Owens, 27; and Ariela Alvarez, 1.
Ezekiel and Zacharia Alvarez, 3-year-old twins, were taken to a hospital in Edenton. Efforts to save Zacharia were unsuccessful. Ezekiel, who was found without a pulse and revived, was later taken to Pitt Memorial Hospital in Greenville. No information about him was available.
The young family was headed back home outside Atlanta following a week at a Jewish convention, according to Pulia Palacios, a cousin of Daniel Alvarez. Alvarez's brother and his family were traveling in a vehicle in front of the SUV and saw the Jeep leave the roadway. Alvarez worked two jobs and his wife also worked to support their children, Palacios said.
Gov. Bev Perdue issued a state of emergency as a precaution ahead of the tropical storm, which also triggered a price-gouging law.
In the Triangle, law enforcement agencies were kept busy Thursday responding to traffic accidents, and several trees were reported down in roadways. One fell across several lanes of Western Boulevard in Raleigh but was quickly cleared.
Rivers south of the capital were expected to cause the biggest problems, especially the Neuse River. Worries about flooding also extended across the state as far west as Winston-Salem.
Emergency planners from Wilmington to the Virginia state line put shelters on standby and stocked rescue vehicles in case they were needed.
By dusk, a rainbow appeared over downtown Raleigh as the rain cleared.
There was a silver lining as well.
Ryan Ellis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Raleigh, predicted the degree of the region's drought would be downgraded when the state board in charge of tracking the climate meets Tuesday.
"Some of the areas in the most severe drought got most of the rain," Ellis said. "I'd say the drought has been severely hurt by this system."
The Associated Press and Alexis Stevens of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution contributed to this report.
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