3 dead as Hurricane Florence wreaks havoc along North Carolina coast

3 dead as Hurricane Florence wreaks havoc along North Carolina coast

  • Storm now Category 1 hurricane with 140 km/h winds.
  • First 2 fatalities have been recorded.
  • Severe flooding possible in both North and South Carolina.
  • More than 600,000 homes and businesses without power.

Blowing ashore with howling 144 km/h winds, Hurricane Florence splintered buildings, trapped hundreds of people and swamped entire communities along the Carolina coast Friday in what could be just the opening act in a watery, slow-motion disaster.

At least three people have reportedly been killed.

Police in Wilmington, N.C., said a mother and baby died when a tree fell on their house. The father was transported to a hospital for treatment. No other information was given. 

The governor’s office said a third person was killed while plugging in a generator.

More than 60 people had to be pulled from a collapsing cinderblock motel in Jacksonville, NC. Hundreds more were rescued elsewhere from rising water. Others could only wait and hope someone would come for them.

Rescue workers, police and fire department members wait to remove the bodies of a mother and child who were killed by a falling tree in Wilmington, N.C., Friday. (Chuck Liddy/The News & Observer via Associated Press)

As the giant, 640-km-wide hurricane pounded away, it unloaded heavy rain, flattened trees, chewed up roads and knocked out power to more than 700,000 homes and businesses. 

Catastrophic flooding expected

The biggest danger, as forecasters saw it, was not the wind but the water: the storm surge along the coastline and the prospect of 30 to 100 centimetres of rain over the next several days that could trigger catastrophic flooding in a slow-motion disaster well inland.

By early afternoon, Florence’s winds had weakened to 120 km/h, just barely a hurricane and well below the storm’s terrifying Category 4 peak of 225 km/h earlier in the week. But the hurricane had slowed to a crawl as it traced the North Carolina-South Carolina shoreline, drenching coastal communities for hours on end.

It’s an uninvited brute who doesn’t want to leave.– Roy Cooper, North Carolina governor

“Hurricane Florence is powerful, slow and relentless,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said. “It’s an uninvited brute who doesn’t want to leave.”

Cooper said the hurricane was “wreaking havoc” on the coast and could wipe out entire communities as it makes its “violent grind across our state for days.” He said parts of North Carolina had seen storm surges — the bulge of seawater pushed ashore by the hurricane — as high as 3 metres.

Florence made 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, coming ashore along a mostly boarded-up, emptied-out stretch of coastline.

It was expected to begin pushing its way westward across South Carolina later in the day, in a watery siege that could go on all weekend.

For people living inland, the moment of maximum peril from flash flooding could arrive days later, because it takes time for rainwater to drain into rivers and for those streams to crest.

Preparing for the worst, about 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians were deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats that could be used to pluck people from the floodwaters.

Waves slam the Oceana Pier & Pier House Restaurant in Atlantic Beach, N.C., on Thursday as Hurricane Florence approached the area. (Travis Long/Associated Press)

Florence was seen as a major test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticized as slow and unprepared last year for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, where the storm was blamed for nearly 3,000 deaths.

Volunteer Amber Hersel from the Civilian Crisis Response Team helps rescue Keiyana Cromartie, 7, and her family from their flooded home on Friday in James City. The hurricane is forcing hundreds of people to call for emergency rescues in the area around New Bern, N.C., which sits at the confluence of two rivers. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The National Hurricane Center said Florence will eventually make a right hook to the northeast over the southern Appalachians, moving into the mid-Atlantic states and New England as a tropical depression by the middle of next week.

Meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com said Florence could dump a staggering 68 trillion litres of rain over a week on North Carolina, South Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Maryland. That’s enough to fill the Chesapeake Bay or cover the entire state of Texas with nearly 10 centimetres of water, he calculated.

On Friday, coastal streets in the Carolinas flowed with frothy ocean water, and pieces of torn-apart buildings flew through the air. The few cars out on a main street in Wilmington had to swerve to avoid fallen trees, metal debris and power lines.

Watch this video about the science behind Hurricane Florence:

A gas station crumples under the force of gusts generated by Hurricane Florence as it nears the U.S. East Coast. 0:28

Airlines cancelled more than 2,100 flights through Sunday.

In Jacksonville, North Carolina, next to Camp Lejeune, firefighters and police fought wind and rain as they went door-to-door to pull people out of the Triangle Motor Inn after the structure began to crumble and the roof started to collapse.

In New Bern, population 29,000, flooding on the Neuse River trapped people, and Mayor Dana Outlaw told The Charlotte Observer that about 200 had been rescued by 5 a.m. Residents reached out for help through the night by phone and social media.

(CBC)

Tom Balance, owner of a seafood restaurant in New Bern, had decided against evacuating his home and was soon alarmed to see waves coming off the Neuse and the water getting higher and higher. Six sheriff’s officers came to his house to rescue him Friday morning, but he didn’t need to leave since the water was dropping by then.

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

Sheets of rain splattered against windows of a hotel before daybreak in Wilmington, where Sandie Orsa of Wilmington sat in a lobby lit by emergency lights after the electricity went out.

“Very eerie, the wind howling, the rain blowing sideways, debris flying,” said Orsa, who lives nearby and feared splintering trees would pummel her house.

More than 12,000 people were in shelters in North Carolina and 400 in Virginia, where the forecast was less dire. Officials said some 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it was unclear how many did.

The Canadian government has warned citizens against travel to the stretch of the U.S. East Coast that is expected to be hammered by Florence.

With files from CBC News 

Published at Fri, 14 Sep 2018 02:16:14 -0400