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Tuesday 28 November 2023 Dublin: 5°C

Florence 'unloading epic amounts of rainfall' as it batters North Carolina

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper called Florence an “uninvited brute” that will linger for some days yet.

LAST UPDATE | Sep 15th 2018, 4:37 PM

News: Hurricane Florence USA Today / SIPA USA/PA Images A playground almost submerged in North Carolina USA Today / SIPA USA/PA Images / SIPA USA/PA Images

FLORENCE HAS ALREADY proven deadly with its nearly nonstop rain, surging seawater and howling winds, and the threats are days from ending as remnants from what was a major hurricane swirl over the Carolinas in the US.

Some towns have received more than 60 centimetres of rain from Florence, and forecasters warned that drenching rains totaling up to 1 metre of water could trigger epic flooding well inland through early next week.

At least four people have died, and authorities fear the toll will go higher as the tropical storm crawls westward today across South Carolina.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper called Florence an “uninvited brute” that could wipe out entire communities as it grinds its way across land.

News: Hurricane Florence USA Today / SIPA USA/PA Images Cars sit in heavy water in Washington, North Carolina. USA Today / SIPA USA/PA Images / SIPA USA/PA Images

“The fact is this storm is deadly and we know we are days away from an ending,” Cooper said.

In a press statement this afternoon, Cooper warned residents displaced by the storm against returning home due to the threat of rising floodwaters.

He said: “Know that water is rising fast everywhere, even in places that don’t typically flood.

This system is unloading epic amounts of rainfall: in some places, measured in feet, not inches.

Tropical Weather AP / PA Images This satellite image provided by NOAA shows Hurricane Florence on the eastern coast of the US AP / PA Images / PA Images

With tropical storm-force winds swirling 560 kilometers wide, Florence continued deluging the Carolinas this morning after pushing surging seas far ashore.

Rescue crews used boats to carry more than 360 people from rising water in the river town of New Bern, North Carolina, while many of their neighbors awaited help. Dozens more were pulled from a collapsed motel.

Florence flattened trees, buckled buildings and crumpled roads. The storm knocked out power to nearly 930,000 homes and businesses, and the number could keep rising.

A mother and baby were killed when a tree fell on a house, according to a tweet from Wilmington police.

A 77-year-old man was apparently knocked down by the wind and died after going out to check on his hunting dogs, Lenoir County authorities said. The governor’s office said a man was electrocuted while trying to connect extension cords in the rain.

Tropical Weather North Carolina Andrew Carter / AP/PA Images Robert Simmons Jr and his kitten Survivor were rescued from floodwaters Andrew Carter / AP/PA Images / AP/PA Images

Storm surges — the bulge of ocean water pushed ashore by the hurricane — were as high as 3 metres.

Heavy rain

Shaken after seeing waves crashing on the Neuse River just outside his house in New Bern, restaurant owner and hurricane veteran Tom Ballance wished he had evacuated.

“I feel like the dumbest human being who ever walked the face of the earth,” he said.

Florence peaked at a terrifying Category 4 with top winds of 225 kph over warm ocean water before making landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at 7.15 a.m. at Wrightsville Beach, a few kilometres east of Wilmington and not far from the South Carolina line.

News: Hurricane Florence USA Today / SIPA USA/PA Images North Carolina national guard reinforcing a low-lying area in Lumberton USA Today / SIPA USA/PA Images / SIPA USA/PA Images

It blew ashore along a mostly boarded-up, emptied-out stretch of coastline.

By Saturday morning, top sustained winds had weakened to 80 kph as it moved farther inland about 55 kilometres west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

But it was clear that this was really about the water, not the wind.

Morehead City, North Carolina, had received 58 centimetres of rain by last night, and forecasters warned this morning that parts of the Carolinas could get up to 38 centimetres more.

At times, Florence was moving forward no faster than a human can walk, and it has remained such a wide storm that its counter-clockwise winds keep scooping up massive amounts of moisture from the sea.

Hurricane Florence TNA / SIPA USA/PA Images A downed tree in Wilmington, North Carolina. TNA / SIPA USA/PA Images / SIPA USA/PA Images

The flooding began on barrier islands in North Carolina and then spread into coastal and river communities there and in South Carolina, swamping the white sands and golf courses in North Myrtle Beach.

For people living inland in the Carolinas, maximum peril could come days later as all that water drains, overflowing rivers and causing flash floods.

Authorities warned, too, of risks of mudslides and environmental disasters from floodwaters washing over industrial waste sites and hog farms.

Major test

About 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians were deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats.

Florence could become a major test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticised as slow and unprepared last year for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, where the death toll was put at nearly 3,000.

U.S.-EAST COAST-HURRICANE FLORENCE-AFTERMATH Xinhua News Agency / PA Images A petrol station blown over near the North Carolina coast. Xinhua News Agency / PA Images / PA Images

The hurricane centre said the storm will eventually break up over the southern Appalachians and make a right hook to the northeast, its rainy remnants moving into the mid-Atlantic states and New England by the middle of next week.

Meteorologist Ryan Maue of calculated that Florence could dump a staggering 68 trillion litres of rain over a week on North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Maryland.

In Jacksonville, North Carolina, next to Camp Lejeune, firefighters and police fought wind and rain as they went door to door to pull more than 60 people out as the Triangle Motor Inn began to crumble.

Hurricane Florence 2018 Michael Candelori / PA Images A reporter braving the storm in New Bern Michael Candelori / PA Images / PA Images

In New Bern, population 29,000, flooding on the Neuse River left 500 people in peril.

“WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU,” the city tweeted during the height of the storm. “You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU.”

Boat teams including volunteers rescued some 360 residents, including Sadie Marie Holt, 67, who first tried to row out of her neighborhood during Florence’s assault.

“The wind was so hard, the waters were so hard … We got thrown into mailboxes, houses, trees,” said Holt, who had stayed at home because of a doctor’s appointment that was later canceled. She was eventually rescued by a boat crew; 140 more awaited help.

Ashley Warren and boyfriend Chris Smith managed to paddle away from their home in a boat with their two dogs, and were left shaken.

“Honestly, I grew up in Wilmington. I love hurricanes. But this one has been an experience for me,” she said. “We might leave.”

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