Danger remains in Florence’s aftermath even as blue skies appear

Coast Guard rescues man and his dog from Cape Fear flooding

A Coast Guard aircrew from Air Station Elizabeth City, NC, rescues a man and his dog 'lucky' off a rooftop after Hurricane Florence, north of the Cape Fear River Monday, Sept. 17, 2018.
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A Coast Guard aircrew from Air Station Elizabeth City, NC, rescues a man and his dog 'lucky' off a rooftop after Hurricane Florence, north of the Cape Fear River Monday, Sept. 17, 2018.

Under sunny skies Tuesday, North Carolina towns watched, with dread, as rivers continued to rise a day after Florence finally exited the state.

The National Weather Service said Tuesday that the radar-estimated total rainfall from the storm was 8.04 trillion gallons, a record deluge in places. That water was responsible for some of the 26 confirmed deaths in North Carolina.

About 2,200 people have had to be rescued in the flooding and wreckage, according to Gov. Roy Cooper.

Major and secondary roads were still flooded, and officials cautioned residents not to be lulled into complacency by the clear skies. Moving around was still dangerous.

“One thing we know too well is that sunshine doesn’t necessarily mean safety,” Cooper said at a midday briefing Tuesday.

He said 16 rivers are at major flood stage, and three more are predicted to peak Wednesday and Thursday. About 1,100 roads are closed, including portions of Interstate 40 and Interstate 95. More roads will shut down depending on changing conditions.

Interstate 40 near mile marker 387 in Pender County, N.C. is flooded as a result of Hurricane Florence, blocking one of the major routes in and out of southeastern NC . NC DOT posted this drone video Monday, Sept. 17, 2018.

Some areas have improved, but Cooper said people who have fled Eastern North Carolina communities should not return to their homes yet, especially in Pender, New Hanover and Brunswick counties. About 10,000 people are still staying in shelters across the state, and 343,000 people are still without power.

The Cape Fear, Little, Lumber, Northeast Cape Fear, Tar, Trent and Neuse rivers were expected to crest throughout the day Tuesday, said Mike Sprayberry, state director of emergency management.

One trouble spot was the community of Spring Lake near Fayetteville, where the Little River had risen higher than projections because of a thunderstorm Monday night.

“This is easily record breaking,” said James Stonecypher out of the USGS’ Raleigh office, who added that the river was projected to reach 35.4 feet.

Despite those record levels there have been no fatalities in Spring Lake related to the river rising, said Troy McDuffie, chief of the Spring Lake Police Department.

“We have had no lost lives,” he said. Now “we are in a waiting mode … and waiting for the waters to recede.”

The Little River in Manchester upstream near Spring Lake hit a record level of 34.96 feet Monday, according to the National Weather Service. During Hurricane Matthew, it reached 32.19 feet.

On Tuesday at 7 a.m., the Little River stood at 35.95 feet and was expected to crest at 36.7 feet, the weather service said.

Three good samaritans rescue a couple in danger of drowning after trying to ford the Little River, swollen by rains from Hurricane Florence, on Monday, Sept. 17, 2018.

The Cape Fear in Fayetteville reached 59.37 feet as of 8 a.m. Tuesday, the weather service reported. That tops Hurricane Matthew’s crest of 58.94 feet on Oct. 10, 2016. The river was expected to crest at 61.5 feet about 2 a.m. Wednesday.

In Fayetteville, the city asked people not to drive around or move road barriers, which mark flooding and sinkholes.

“There is a strong potential that those who live within the 1-mile evacuation area of the Cape Fear River will be impacted by flooding. Additionally, high speed, fast-moving water with debris will likely cause bridge damage and it is advised that residents do not walk or drive on bridges that have been flooded,” the City of Fayetteville said in a news release Tuesday morning.

Officials there said the danger of flooding probably won’t subside until late into the weekend.

As of Tuesday morning, 81 people had been rescued in Cumberland County, with the majority occurring around North Bragg Boulevard and Manchester Road. The water rescues were conducted by county, City of Fayetteville and FEMA Urban Search & Rescue Teams, the city said.

Across the state, officials were trying to keep people healthy and fed. Four mass feeding kitchens have been set up in Washington, New Bern, Kinston and Lumberton, Sprayberry said, and more will be established.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, put out a call Tuesday for nurses to volunteer to help in communities cut off from health care. Individual nurses can register with the American Red Cross, and groups can sign up at the state’s Training Exercise Response Management System.

Cohen said WIC recipients will get an extra month of benefits loaded on to their cards, and those on food assistance can use cards to buy hot meals. She urged people to throw out food exposed to floodwater or refrigerated items after a power outage. A 24-hour crisis counseling hotline is available at 1-800-985-5990.

Cooper reported significant agricultural losses. He said a quarter to half of tobacco crops were still in the fields, and other damaged crops included cotton and peanuts. The full scope is not known.

FEMA Administrator Brock Long was in his home state of North Carolina on Tuesday to see the work and receive updates.

“I’m very pleased with where we are, but I know we’ve got a long way to go because this event is not over,” Long said. “I think the next 48 hours are going to be critical.”

Cooper had visited New Bern, where he helped N.C. Baptist Men serve meals. “The damage there is devastating,” he said Tuesday.

Volunteers, faith communities and neighbors are pitching in to help, he said.

“As distressing as this damage is, it’s equally heartening to watch neighbors helping neighbors, and see volunteers and people of faith stepping up to do their part,” Cooper said. “This is the North Carolina I know in my heart. And it is the reason we will make this state whole again.”

Many in the flooded areas still had not recovered from Hurricane Matthew. Looking ahead to rebuilding, Cooper said the state wants to be smarter this time and get people into housing as quickly as possible.

“I know for many people, this feels like a nightmare that just won’t end,” Cooper said. “I know many people are tired of the present and are scared of the future. But please know we will not give up on you.”

Over 1,000 search-and-rescue personnel with 36 helicopters and over 200 boats were working in North Carolina as Hurricane Florence passed through the Carolinas.

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