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Death toll from Florence rises, officials urge caution as storm continues

Florence brings flooding to Durham

Heavy rains in the wake of Hurricane Florence caused flooding on Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd. in Durham, NC Monday morning, Sept. 17, 2018.
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Heavy rains in the wake of Hurricane Florence caused flooding on Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd. in Durham, NC Monday morning, Sept. 17, 2018.

Nineteen deaths have now been attributed to Hurricane Florence in North Carolina, including a 1-year-old boy from Union County who was swept away by floodwaters. Gov. Roy Cooper is describing Florence’s wrath as “a monumental disaster for our state.”

While the eye of the storm has left North Carolina, officials are bracing for the “worst flooding yet.” A total of 18 counties have been added to North Carolina’s Major Federal Disaster Declaration request. More counties are likely to be added, Cooper said.

“Many of our people are going to be going through assessments here over the weeks and months to be able to quantify the magnitude, but already we have 17 people who have died,” Cooper said during a briefing Monday afternoon. “We hope there is not another life lost, but we know that raging rivers are still out there and more lives can be claimed.”

Two more deaths that were not included in Cooper’s briefing were confirmed separately later Monday.

While the risk of land and rock slides in the western part of the state have dissipated, Cooper said, roads in the eastern part of the state remain dangerous.

Just this morning 23 trucks of supplies -- including water and food -- were able to get to Wilmington after access to the city was cut off on Sunday. North Carolina Department of Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon said he doesn’t know how long that access could last.

There are more than 1,200 road closures across the state and parts of Interstate 95 and Interstate 40 remain closed to traffic. About 484,000 still did not have power, Cooper said. People are urged to stay off the roads, especially those south of U.S. Highway 64 and east of Interstate 73-74.

First responders have rescued and evacuated more than 2,600 people and more than 300 animals from flooded areas.

“Please don’t make yourself someone who needs to be rescued,” Cooper said.

Cooper met with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen on Monday. According to a release from Cooper’s office, the two spoke briefly at RDU Airport and specifically discussed challenges facing the state, including fuel supply, road closures, and wastewater.

“(President Donald Trump) is fully committed to helping everyone through the response and the recovery as well,” Nielsen said Monday after her meeting with Cooper. “He’s made it very clear that we should offer everything we have within the federal family.”

She said Trump has been “quick to meet the requests” from North Carolina, whether it be a disaster or emergency declaration.

Nielsen during a briefing with the press was asked about the federal disaster fund, and whether there is enough money available to the state to respond to not only Florence but other major hurricanes that have made landfall in the U.S.

“Congress kicks in if the money in the disaster relief fund is not sufficient through supplemental appropriations,” she said. “But yes, we have to continue to make sure the money is there when we need it.”

Nielsen was in the state to survey the flooding in Kinston.

She isn’t the only federal official visiting North Carolina this week -- Trump is also scheduled to make a visit, as is FEMA Administrator Brock Long. Long is a North Carolina native.

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