I-40 looks more like a river than a highway north of Wilmington
In a final lashing on Monday, the sprawling storm Florence triggered tornadoes, flooded communities and left hundreds of roads submerged as it crawled northward out of the state.
There were at least 32 known deaths from the storm, with 25 of them occurring in North Carolina.
One of them was in Union County, where emergency workers on Monday found the body of Kaiden Lee-Welch, a 1-year-old boy swept away in rushing water Sunday after his mother’s car became trapped in flooding. She was able to free him from a car seat but lost her grip on him in the torrent.
Across hundreds of miles large swaths of major highways, streets and back roads were under water, making interstate travel a daunting challenge and making it impossible in the Lumberton, Wilmington and Jacksonville areas. Wilmington remained an island cut off by flooded streets that prevented most land access.
The National Weather Service said Tuesday that radar observations collected during Florence indicated that the storm dumped 8.04 trillion gallons of rain on the state.
To the south, Duke Energy’s Brunswick nuclear plant workers had limited access to relieve those who have been on site for days, which prompted a required state of emergency declaration. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the twin-reactor plant posed no threat to public safety.
Charlotte-based Duke shut down the two reactors ahead of the storm when Florence was a Category 4 hurricane. Federal law requires nuclear operators to shut down reactors when sustained wind speeds are at 74 miles per hour or more.
Across North Carolina, 49 of the state’s 115 school districts were closed Monday with 23 operating on a delay, according to the state Department of Public Instruction. Of the 185 charter schools, 71 were closed Monday and six were operating on a delay.
At least 1.2 million of North Carolina’s 1.5 million public school students have missed some school because of the storm, according to DPI.
But there were some signs Monday of the region returning to normalcy. Both the Wake County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro school systems announced classes would resume Tuesday. The Durham and Orange County school systems both reopened Monday.
Wake County declared the end of its local state of emergency at 7 p.m. Monday. The county also closed its emergency operations center and the six emergency shelters that at their peak housed more than 1,200 people during the storm.
Elsewhere on Monday, though, nerves remained on edge as towns and counties prepared for the flooding that will come from rising water levels at rivers. Gov. Roy Cooper said the Black, Little, Cape Fear, Lumber and Neuse rivers are “inundated” and 13 more rivers will reach moderate or major flood stages.
The water won’t recede quickly, especially near the coast. North Carolina emergency managers predict the flooding at he Cape Fear River near Burgaw will do more than $11 million in damage.
Dozens of onlookers gathered by the Person Street bridge in East Fayetteville at sunset Monday to assess the rising Cape Fear River, which is forecast to crest near 62 feet Tuesday.
Monday began with the National Weather Service issuing tornado warnings throughout the central part of the state, including in Durham County and eastern Orange County at 7:30 a.m.
A confirmed tornado was reported over Elm City, about 8 miles southwest of Rocky Mount, about 7 a.m. The weather service said Wilson County emergency officials reported trees and power lines down in the Elm City area and some damaged buildings.
In Orange County, about seven people in Camelot Village near Bolin Creek voluntarily evacuated about 12:30 a.m. Monday after firefighters visited the community and warned of the rising creek water, said Ran Northam, a Chapel Hill police spokesman. While some at Camelot Village evacuated late last week, Northam said, it appeared they returned after they thought the threat had passed.
In Durham, police said in a Twitter post that flooding had closed Interstate 85 near Cole Mill Road and sections of Fayetteville Street and East Weaver Street.
The Eno River overflowed its banks in Durham, causing significant flooding. Go Durham buses were enlisted to transport evacuees to the county health and human services building.
Shortly after noon, the Durham Fire Department, Lebanon Volunteer Fire Department, and Durham County Emergency Management began evacuating homes along Rippling Stream Drive in the Old Farm neighborhood in North Durham.
Chatham County reported that numerous roads were impassable because of flooding Monday morning.
Late Sunday and early Monday, Randolph County emergency officials said crews had rescued people from three vehicles trapped by floodwater, and several people were helped out of flooded homes.
The Deep River at Ramseur in Randolph County was continuing to rise at midday, when it reached what is categorized as a major flood stage, according to the National Weather Service.
Robeson County, which has had substantial flooding, reported five shelters remaining open Monday. The county has accommodated nearly 1,600 people in the shelters.
A number of residential neighborhoods were being evacuated Monday morning of those unable to get out on their own. The county urged people to stay home if they can, or find a shelter.
The State Highway Patrol was trying to find a safe route for volunteers to reach Lumberton, according to the N.C. Baptist Men and Women on Mission, a relief group based in Cary. Interstate 95 remains under water in several places where it passes through Lumberton, and is closed.
Although the Lumber River remains high and a temporary fill where a railroad bridge cuts through the town’s levee has been leaking since it was hurriedly built over the past several days, the levee held through Sunday night, keeping a bad situation from becoming worse. Its level had dropped 3 feet, according to the county.
A Hoke County dam just upriver from Cumberland County was overflowing Monday morning.
Cumberland County Animal Control evacuated its 225 dogs and cats from the shelter near Hope Mills.
A five-member team from the N.C. National Guard rescued nearly 240 people from New Bern floodwaters over the weekend. In all, the guard has participated in more than 600 rescues throughout the state, and has used 60 planes from the Civil Air Patrol.
Statewide, nearly 3,000 members of the state’s National Guard are helping in some of the areas that were hit hardest by the storm.
Gov. Roy Cooper met with U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen at Raleigh-Durham International Airport to update her on the response and recovery efforts. Cooper, who toured New Bern on Monday, plans to visit Wilmington on Tuesday.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Monday that federal disaster aid will be available for people who qualify in 10 additional North Carolina counties: Bladen, Columbus, Cumberland, Duplin, Harnett, Lenoir, Jones, Robeson, Sampson and Wayne counties. People in Beaufort, Brunswick, Carteret, Craven, New Hanover, Onslow, Pamlico and Pender counties are already eligible.
The N.C. Division of Employment Security announced disaster assistance will be available for those who qualify in eight counties: Beaufort, Brunswick, Carteret, Craven, New Hanover, Onslow, Pamlico and Pender. People who became unemployed as a direct result of the hurricane can be eligible for unemployment benefits; business owners can also qualify. Unemployed workers have until Oct. 17 to apply.
Non-resident property owners will be allowed Tuesday to the state ferry to Ocracoke. Visitors will be allowed to return to Ocrakoe starting Friday.
As the day wore on, the final traces of Florence winds and darkened skies gave way to a breezy afternoon and sunshine for the first time in several days.
Lingering humidity will slow the drying-out process for days to come, WTVD reported. By Wednesday and lasting into Saturday, the Triangle should be free of rain, according to WTVD.
Staff writers Richard Stradling, Martha Quillin, John Murawski, Abbie Bennett, Ron Gallagher, Tammy Grubb, Virginia Bridges, Anna Johnson, Lynn Bonner, Carli Brosseau and Zachary Eanes contributed.