14 dead from Florence, nearly a million without power as storm batters Carolinas

This story was updated at 5:00 a.m. ET

At least 14 people have died in North and South Carolina as a result of Florence, now a slow-moving tropical depression that continues to pound the states with heavy rains and catastrophic flooding.

The storm has increased its speed and is now moving at 8 mph across eastern South Carolina, the National Hurricane Center reported in its 5 a.m. update. The center of the storm is about 20 miles southeast of Columbia, S.C.

It weakened from a tropical storm to a tropical depression early Sunday morning after the NHC reported maximum sustained speeds of 35 mph.

The storm is expected to move across western North and South Carolina on Sunday and then “recurve over the Ohio Valley and Northeast U.S. Monday and Tuesday,” according to the Hurricane Center.

The sustained rains and wind from Florence, which made landfall on Friday morning as a category 1 hurricane, have caused “flash flooding and major river flooding ... over a significant portion of the Carolinas,” the NHC said. Mandatory evacuations are in place for those living near the Cape Fear and Little Rivers in North Carolina, and several rivers in South Carolina are threatening to overflow.

“The flood danger from this storm is more immediate today than when it made landfall,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Saturday.

Parts of southern and central North Carolina and northeast South Carolina could see an additional 10 to 15 inches of rain which will “produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding,” according to the NHC. Florence has already set a rainfall record in North Carolina.

Accumulations of up to 40 inches are expected in southeast North Carolina and up to 20 inches in western North Carolina, bringing the risk of landslides, according to the NHC.

Many creeks and rivers far from the coast are experiencing flooding, according to the state’s real-time flood map, and motorists are being asked to stay off the roads due to flood risks.

How many people have died from Florence?

North Carolina first responders and the governor reported the first five deaths associated with the storm on Friday:

  • A tree fell on a house in Wilmington, police reported, killing a mother and her child.

  • A 78-year-old Kinston man was electrocuted when connecting extension cords in the rain.

  • A 77-year-old man in Lenoir County was blown down by the wind when he went to check on his hunting dogs.

  • A woman in Pender County died “after suffering a medical condition,” police said. Trees blocked the roads to her home for rescuers.

A 61-year-old woman died in South Carolina late Friday when the vehicle she was driving hit a fallen tree on Highway 18 near Union, The Associated Press reported. The tree was about 6 feet above the road’s surface and the vehicle’s roof struck the tree, Capt. Kelley Hughes of the South Carolina Highway Patrol told The Associated Press.

Three more people died from the storm in Duplin County, North Carolina “due to flash flooding and swift water on roadways,” according to the Duplin County Sheriff’s Office.

An 81-year-old man in Wayne County who died Friday after falling while evacuating and a husband and wife in Cumberland County who died in a house fire on Friday are being counted among the storm’s death toll by the Chief Medical Examiner in Raleigh, the Associated Press reported.

In Longs, S.C., 61-year-old Debra Collins Rion and 63-year-old Mark Carter King died Friday night from carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator that was being used in their house, according to the Horry County Coroner’s Office. The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News reported the deaths.

Carteret County, N.C., also reported two deaths initially believed to be caused by Florence, but in a news release Saturday clarified that sheriff’s deputies and Army National Guard soldiers responding to a home found Pauly Lewis and his wife, Alicia Lewis dead “in an apparent murder/suicide.”

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How many are without power?

North Carolina emergency officials reported 681,446 without power at around 4 a.m. Sunday, with the highest numbers in New Hanover, Brunswick, Carteret, Cumberland, and Onslow counties. In New Hanover County 100,000 people are without power.

Duke Energy’s outage map showed 404,060 customers in North Carolina without power from the coast inland as of 4 a.m. sunday Another 277,386 N.C. electric cooperative customers were also without power as of 4 a.m.

In South Carolina, 66,856 households were without power across the state late Saturday, according to the South Carolina Emegency Management Division. The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina reported about 19,741 outages, with the most severely affected counties in the northeast portion of the state at 4 a.m. Sunday.


Where is there flooding?

A mandatory evacuation order was in effect Saturday for residents of Cumberland County, Fayetteville and Wade who are within a mile of the Cape Fear River and Little River due to potential for flooding, according to a statement by the county and city. The town of Hope Mills warned residents near the Hope Mills Lake that the dam couuld breach on Sunday and told them to seek shelter.

All lanes of Interstate 95 are closed from Exit 65 in Cumberland County to Exit 81 in Johnston County, the statement said. N.C. Department of Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon said more segments of I-95, particularly near Lumberton and Fayetteville could soon be impacted.

Roads throughout southeastern North Carolina were impassable on Sunday morning with parts of U.S. 70, US 17 and US 264 are among the roads in eastern North Carolina that are now closed, The News & Observer reported Saturday.

“Don’t make yourself someone who needs to be rescued,” Gov. Roy Cooper said Saturday. “All roads in the state are at risk of floods.”

By 5 a.m. Friday, about 200 people had been rescued from flooded homes in New Bern, where the National Weather Service reported 10 feet of higher water. People were stuck in their cars, attics and rooftops, waiting for rescuers in boats.

As of 6 a.m. Saturday, state emergency management officials say ground and air crews report rescuing 245 people and 77 animals, with the most rescues occurring in Carteret, Lenoir and Onslow counties.

Johnston County asked residents in low-lying and flood-prone areas to get to higher ground. A shelter was open at Clayton High School.

Nearly 23,000 people are hunkered down in 150 schools, churches and a coliseum in Winston-Salem. Another shelter opened Saturday on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.

The National Weather Service is forecasting record Cape Fear River flooding in Pender and Duplin counties early next week, with the water reaching about 24 feet, or 11 feet above flood stage.

The threat of freshwater flooding will increase in the coming days, according to the NHC. “Heavy and excessive rainfall” could cause “catastrophic flash flooding” in both Carolinas, as some areas are forecast to receive 20 to 30 inches of rain, and isolated spots of 40 inches.

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What about tornadoes?

A few tornadoes “are possible” in southeastern North Carolina and northeastern South Carolina on Sunday, according to the NHC.

Radar showed a half-dozen tornadoes in eastern and southeastern North Carolina on Thursday, the National Weather Service reported.

A tornado caused damage after it touched down in Bertie County at 10:30 a.m. Friday, according to WRAL.

Wake County was one of 20 counties in N.C. that were issued a tornado watch Friday, according to Newsweek.

When did Florence make landfall?

Florence officially made landfall at 7:15 a.m. ET near Wrightsville Beach, according to the National Hurricane Center. The first of the rain and wind gusts from Florence rolled ashore just before dawn Thursday at Morehead City, a Carteret County town that is expected to get 20 to 25 inches of rain over the weekend. “Isolated spots could see 30 to 40 inches of rain,” said the NHC.

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