North Carolina

Downgraded Florence a danger as river flooding rises in Carolinas, with death toll at 17

This story was updated at 6:40 p.m. ET

At least 17 people have died in North Carolina and South Carolina as a result of Florence, and officials are warning of danger ahead as rivers continue to swell with heavy rainfall from the storm.

Florence was downgraded to a tropical depression early Sunday morning, and by the late afternoon had gained speed to 14 mph as it moved north-northwest with sustained winds of 35 mph, as of the National Hurricane Center’s 5 p.m. update. The center of the storm was about 25 miles south-southeast of Greenville, S.C., and 60 miles south-southeast of Asheville.

The storm is expected to “accelerate to the north today and tonight before turning eastward across Southern New England on Tuesday,” the update said.

But Florence “continues to produce widespread heavy rains over much of North Carolina and eastern South Carolina,” according to the 5 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center, which said the storm can still produce “flash flooding and catastrophic/historic river flooding ... over a significant portion of the Carolinas.”

The sustained rains and wind from Florence, which made landfall Friday morning near Wrightsville Beach 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 in Fayetteville and other locations near the Cape Fear and Little rivers in North Carolina. Several rivers in South Carolina are threatening to overflow as well.

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

How much rain will we get?

Southeastern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina could see 2 to 5 more inches of rain and up to 8 inches more in some locations, the 5 p.m. update said. “Total accumulations of 30 to 40 inches likely,” in the eastern locations, the update said. “These rainfall amounts will produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding.”

Parts of central and western North Carolina, northern South Carolina and southwest Virginia could see an additional 5 to 10 inches of rain, for a total of 15-20 inches, which “will produce flash flooding and an elevated risk for landslides,” the 5 p.m. update said.

Florence has already set rainfall records in North Carolina. A reading of more than 30 inches in Swansboro was 6 inches above the previous rainfall record for a tropical cyclone, according to the National Weather Service.

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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.

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A map of areas at risk of flash flooding for the 24 hours beginning 8 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 16, as Tropical Depression Florence continues to move west across the Carolinas. NWS

How many people have died from Florence?

At least 17 people have died from the storm, 11 in North Carolina and 6 in South Carolina

North Carolina first responders and the governor reported the first 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.

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 Friday are being counted among the storm’s death toll by the Chief Medical Examiner in Raleigh, the Associated Press reported.

A 3-month-old baby was killed Sunday after a tree fell on a mobile home in Dallas, N.C., according to Gaston County Commissioner Tracy Philbeck.

The boy was home with family when the tree fell, reported The Charlotte Observer. No one else was hurt.

Hillary Priddy embraces her neighbor Renee Askew in their mobile home park along Nine Foot Road in Newport, N.C. on Sunday, September 16, 2018. Askew lost her home and all of her possessions after Hurricane Florence flooded her home on Friday night. The water rose so quickly from tributaries of the Newport River that Askew had to escape from a window in her mobile home and swim to safety. Robert Willett

And in South Carolina, a 61-year-old woman died 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.

In Loris, 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.

Georgetown County Coroner Kenny Johnson on Sunday said 23-year-old Michael Dalton Prince drowned in floodwaters inside an overturned truck, according to The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News.

The South Carolina Department of Public Safety reported a fatal collision in Kershaw County Sunday at 7 a.m. A pick-up truck was north of Columbia on I-20’s westbound lanes, near the 106 mile marker, when it ran off the road and hit an overpass support beam.

The driver, identified as 42-year-old Jeffery B. Youngren of Elgin, died on scene, according to the Kershaw County Coroner. Although Coroner David A. West reported Youngren was not wearing a seat belt, he said “the weather played a big part in his death.”

Just before 5 p.m., the SCDPS reported another fatality on the road. This occurred at 6 a.m. Sunday in Lexington County, when a pick-up truck drove into standing water on Pond Branch Road, near the Columbia-area suburb of Gilbert.

30-year-old Rhonda Rebecca Hartley of Leesville was pronounced dead at the scene, according to Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher, who said Hartley was not wearing a seat belt when she struck a tree.

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.”

Also in North Carolina, the death of a Pender County woman who officials said had a heart attack was not considered to be caused by the storm, The AP reported. The woman’s death was originally counted as a storm-related because fallen trees had reportedly blocked rescuers from reaching her home.

How many people are without power?

North Carolina emergency officials reported 632,566 without power at around 4:15 p.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 379,646 customers in North Carolina without power as of 5 p.m. Sunday.

Mastec employee John Chadwick walks out of waist deep water after working to restore part of the power grid off of Nine Foot Road in Newport, N.C. on Sunday, September 16, 2018. Most of the Carteret County town is without power after Hurricane Florence moved across the area. Robert Willett

The Sunday morning outage estimate for public power communities in North Carolina was 26,000, according to ElectricCities. The majority of the outages were reported in New Bern (7,857 as of 9:30 a.m. Sunday) and Fayetteville 11,189 as of 8:30 a.m.).

In South Carolina, the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina reported more than 7,000 outages, with the most severely affected counties in the northeast portion of the state at 5 p.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 could 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.

Another nine-mile section of I-95 was closed just south of the South Carolina-North Carolina border because of flooding, according to The State. Drivers were told to avoid the area.

Amanda Mason and Zack McWilliams on Newport, N.C. walk through waist deep water to take a look at their flooded home off of Nine Foot Road on Sunday afternoon September 16, 2018. The were displaced on Friday night after fast rising water entered their home from a tributary of the Newport River. Robert Willett

Roads throughout southeastern North Carolina were impassable Sunday morning with parts of U.S. 70, U.S. 17 and U.S. 264 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.”

The News & Observer reported that “forecasters expected the heaviest rainfall in the southeast and Sandhills through Sunday night, but said there is a high risk for flash flooding from the coast to the western mountains.

The State reported that heavy rains are raising concern that the Great Pee Dee River would soon flood.

“On the Great Pee Dee, river levels will reach 49 feet by Tuesday, about one foot short of the record flood level, according to the National Weather Service.”

Has everyone been rescued?

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 water. People were stuck in their cars, attics and rooftops, waiting for rescuers in boats.

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

Amanda Mason on Newport, N.C. carries a cat she rescued from her neighborhood off of Nine Foot Road on Sunday afternoon September 16, 2018. Mason and her partner Zack McWilliams visited their damaged home and found the displaced cat and carried it out to safety. Their home was flooded by fast rising water from a tributary of the Newport River on Friday night. Robert Willett

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 “near the eastern border of the Carolinas,” on Sunday night, according to the NHC.

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.

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

When did Florence make landfall?

Florence officially made landfall at 7:15 a.m. EST Friday, Sept. 14, 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 was expected to get 20 to 25 inches of rain over the weekend.