Coast Guard rescue swimmer investigates truck in dangerous flooding
Remnants of Florence continued to batter the Carolinas Sunday and early Monday as rivers continued to rise in much of eastern North Carolina and the danger of flash floods spread throughout the state.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned that risks to life are “rising with the angry waters.” In Union County, rescuers were trying to find a child who apparently was trapped in a car that washed away on N.C. 218 near New Salem.
Access to Wilmington was completely cut off by flood waters, officials said.
Downgraded Sunday to a tropical depression, former Hurricane Florence has been blamed officially for 11 deaths in North Carolina and six in South Carolina. As many as 15,000 people remained stranded in more than 150 emergency shelters, Cooper told reporters at noon.
“This storm has never been more dangerous than it is right now,” Cooper said.
Flooding closed more than 170 roads in North Carolina, including portions of Interstates 95 and 40.
In Wilmington, an emergency official told reporters there was no longer any way in or out of the county by land. “You can’t come yet. Please stay where you are,” Woody White, chairman of the New Hanover county commissioners, told reporters.
In Charlotte, there were closed roads and downed trees throughout the city, and Duke Energy reported that water could spill out of several of its lakes above and below Charlotte starting as early as Monday evening. The National Weather Service forecast up to 6 inches of rain in the area during the day and through Sunday night, with wind gusts as high as 30 mph.
The Triangle was spared the heaviest rain. According to the News & Observer, parts of Pittsboro received nearly 2 inches between midday Saturday and noon Sunday before the rain tapered off. Amounts in Wake County varied.
Just before 6 p.m. Sunday, 3,700 Duke Energy customers were without power in Johnston County, fewer than 400 in Durham County, fewer than 300 in Wake County and just over 200 in Orange County.
And there was no major flooding on any of the Triangle’s most prone waterways — Crabtree, Marsh, Swift and Walnut creeks — the National Weather Service reported.
The storm’s sustained winds had slowed, the National Hurricane Center reported by 11 a.m., and the storm itself was moving north-northwest, and was expected to turn east in the coming days through Pennsylvania and up to New England.
‘I was scared’
In eastern North Carolina, which took the brunt of the storm, flooding continued as at least four rivers, including the Neuse and Cape Fear, reached flood stage. Some people stayed; others left.
Vickie Mariniello was one who stayed.
She has seen her share of hurricanes and other natural disasters after living in Fayetteville off and on for 64 years, she said.
“When I was a baby, my mother passed me through a window during the evacuation of Hurricane Hazel in 1954,” Mariniello said.
On Sunday, she stood on the porch of her apartment in the Tartan Place neighborhood off of Ramsay Street, hand to her face, watching the incessant rain come down, unsure if she should leave. Mariniello lives less than a mile from the Cape Fear river, which on Sunday morning reached its minor flood stage of 35 feet. Police came through Mariniello’s neighborhood on Saturday.
“They scared all of us,” she said. “They came through with their speakers and told everyone that if they don’t leave, no one will come back for you. No one will be able to rescue you.”
As of Sunday afternoon, Mariniello said she had no plans to evacuate. “A lot of people are staying,” she said.
Not Auriel Tinsley.
The resident of Hope Mills, near Fayetteville, scooped up her three small children — ages 5, 3 and 1 — and got on a Greyhound bus bound for Charlotte on Thursday.
“I was just running from the storm,” Tinsley, 26, who works at Food Lion, said Sunday. “I wanted to get farther away (from the hurricane). I was scared.”
She has been at the Red Cross shelter at West Mecklenburg High School since Friday morning with her kids and her grandmother, who’s 66. And she plans to stay put until the storm has moved on.
“I’m just riding a wave,” she said.
Meanwhile in Lumberton, Shakeia Bethea got a knock on her door around 12:30 a.m. Sunday. She was told to get out of her mobile home right away.
“They said the levee broke,” Bethea told the News & Observer. She had been in the same home in October 2016, when Hurricane Matthew flooded Lumberton, forcing thousands of people from their homes.
One emergency responder in Fayetteville told WRAL-TV that officials believe flood waters will be up to 4 feet above the level seen in Matthew.
‘Water has nowhere to go’
Josh Stein, North Carolina’s attorney general, warned people of unscrupulous businesses Sunday.
“Unfortunately there are some out there (who want) to take advantage of a natural disaster to make a quick buck,” he told reporters in a noon press conference.
Stein said the state has put a price gouging law in effect. He also warned would-be car buyers to beware of flood-damaged vehicles in the days and weeks after the storm.
“Florence has brought hardship and despair,” he said. “Let’s make sure that hardship is not compounded by scam artists.”
Cooper warned that recovery will take time.
“Eventually the skies will clear and the flood waters will recede, and when they do we’re ready to take on the challenge of rebuilding our communities,” the governor said. “We are in it for the long haul.”
Meanwhile, in Marion County, S.C., Florence had dumped about 13.3 inches of rain so far, the most in the state, according to the S.C. Emergency Management Division. Officials expected up to 10 more inches, county Administrator Tim Harper told The State newspaper.
“It has been raining nonstop,” he said. “The water has nowhere to go.”
Abbie Bennett and Martha Quillin of the News & Observer, Tim Funk of the Charlotte Observer and Avery Wilks of The State newspaper contributed.