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5 dead in North Carolina as Florence brings heavy flooding and power outages

The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)
September 14. 2018 11:20PM
Water from the Neuse river floods houses during the passing of Hurricane Florence in the town of New Bern, N.C., Sept. 14, 2018. (REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)

RALEIGH, N.C. — Hurricane Florence delivered a slow-motion assault to the coast of North Carolina on Friday, with catastrophic storm surge and torrential rains that will continue for days.

The hurricane was also deadly, killing five people.

Wilmington, N.C., police confirmed that a mother and her infant died when a tree fell on their home. The child’s father was transported to the hospital with injuries.

Two people in Lenoir County were killed: a 78-year-old man who was electrocuted when connecting extension cords in the rain and a 77-year-old man who was blown down by the wind when he went to check on his hunting dogs.

A woman in Hampstead died of an apparent heart attack after emergency crews could not clear debris to get to her.

The storm made landfall at Wrightsville Beach at 7:15 a.m., with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. But Florence, a Category 1 when it hit, already had pounded coastal areas for hours.

The enormous storm crept at a 6 mph pace, making it clear that the trouble was just beginning.

By 5 a.m., about 200 people had been rescued from flooded homes in New Bern, where the National Weather Service reported 10 feet of inundation. People were stuck in their cars, attics and rooftops, waiting for rescuers in boats.

A woman named Bree tweeted: “If anybody could help ... our cars is under water and so is our house stuck in attic. Phone about to die please send help to 611 Watson ave, new bern. NC”

A friend later tweeted that the woman and her family had been rescued.

That kind of scenario is likely to repeat itself all over communities in Eastern North Carolina, as swollen rivers flood towns and the pouring rain adds to the misery.

Robert Simmons Jr. and his kitten "Survivor" are rescued from floodwaters in New Bern, N.C., after Hurricane Florence dumped several inches of rain in the area overnight, Friday, Sept. 14, 2018. Hundreds were rescued from eastern North Carolina in the wake of the slow-moving storm. (Travis Long/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS)

It already had, in Beaufort County and its capital city, Washington, where 300 people were rescued from flooded homes. By late afternoon, Beaufort County Manager Brian Alligood hoped the worst was over.

“It has slowed,” he said. “We have started to see the water recede.”

The National Hurricane Center described Florence’s path as a wobble around southeastern North Carolina.

But the size of the storm meant the path didn’t really matter. Hurricane-force winds were extending out up to 80 miles from the center, and tropical-storm-force winds extended up to 195 miles, the center said.

At 5 p.m., Florence had been downgraded to a tropical storm, with sustained winds of 70 mph.

Rescue crews in Onslow County helped evacuate 70 people from a Jacksonville hotel early Friday after the roof collapsed and rain rushed in.

Onslow County spokesman Cornelius Jordan said some visitors at the Triangle Motor Inn were able to drive away on their own, but emergency personnel had to take others to a safe location. Emergency crews also rescued an Onslow family from their home where a tree fell through the roof, Jordan said.

Power outages increased throughout Friday. By 2 p.m., more than 658,000 customers were without power across North Carolina. More are expected, as the storm could bring winds up to 45 mph around the area, according to Durham County emergency management officials.

At a briefing, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said the risk of fatality will only grow when people venture out once the winds die down. He urged residents to stay inside and not get in the way of emergency workers.

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

Storm surge was as high as 10 feet on the Neuse River, he said. Flooding also hit the Bogue Sound near Beaufort, the Pungo River at Belhaven and the Pamlico River at Washington.

He said flooding will continue for days and the full magnitude of the hurricane is unknown. “For overall damage, it would be hard, at the end of the day, I think, to find a rival for this storm.”

Leaves, branches and other debris surround and cover a car during the passing of Hurricane Florence in the town of New Bern, N.C., Sept. 14, 2018. (REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)

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