Emergency workers went door to door urging people to flee Florence’s rising waters Saturday and rescuers used inflatable boats to pluck others from homes already submerged as the storm poured on the rain, setting the stage for what could be some of the most disastrous flooding in North Carolina history.
More than 2 feet of rain already had fallen in places, and the drenching went on and on as Florence, a hurricane-turned-tropical storm, practically parked itself over the two states. Forecasters said another 1½ feet could fall by the end of the weekend.
Rivers and creeks rose toward historic levels, threatening flash flooding that could devastate communities.
“I cannot overstate it: Floodwaters are rising, and if you aren’t watching for them you are risking your life,” Gov. Roy Cooper said.
Florence blew ashore early Friday in North Carolina with 90 mph winds, buckling buildings, deluging entire communities and knocking out power to more than 900,000 homes and businesses as it crawled inland and weakened into a still-lethal tropical storm.
At least four people have died, including a mother and baby killed when a tree fell on a house in Wilmington.
Officials in North Carolina’s Harnett County, about 90 miles inland, urged residents of about 1,100 homes to evacuate because the Lower Little River was rising toward record levels.
In New Bern, along the coast, aerial photos show homes completely surrounded by water, with rescuers using inflatable boats to go house to house to remove people. More than 360 people have been carried to safety since Thursday night amid rising waters from a river swelled by both rain and salty storm surge.
A pet dog licked Johan Mackie’s face after he helped rescue Kevin Knox’s family from their flooded brick home. The Army sergeant was part of a team using a phone app to locate people in distress.
Mackie rode in a boat through a flooded neighborhood, navigating through trees and past a fence post to get to the Knox house.
“Amazing. They did awesome,” said Knox, who was stranded with seven others, including a boy who was carried out in a life vest. “If not we’d be stuck upstairs for the next … how long? I have no idea.”
At 11 a.m., Florence was centered about 40 miles west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, moving west at 2 mph, not even as fast as a person can walk. Its winds were down to 45 mph.
With the eye of Florence stalled near the coast, the half of the storm still out over the Atlantic continued to collect warm ocean water and dump it on land.
Stream gauges across the region showed water levels steadily rising, with forecasts calling for rivers to crest Sunday and Monday at or near record levels. The Little River, the Cape Fear, the Lumber, the Neuse, the Waccamaw and the Pee Dee were all projected to rise over their banks, flooding cities and towns.
National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said radar and rain gauges indicated some areas got as much as 2½ feet of rain, which he called “absolutely staggering.”
“And we’re not done yet,” Graham said, adding that some hard-hit areas could get an additional 15 to 20 inches because the storm was moving so slowly.
As of noon, Swansboro, North Carolina, had nearly 31 inches of rain, Emerald Isle had over 23, and Wilmington and Goldsboro had about a foot. North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, had about 7 inches.
Charlotte and Asheville in North Carolina, and Roanoke, Virginia, could also be in for heavy rains as Florence plods inland. Areas like New Bern also could see an additional 3 to 5 feet of storm surge as high tide combines with the seawater still being pushed ashore by Florence, Graham said.
The hurricane center said the storm will eventually break up over the southern Appalachians and make a sharp rightward swing to the northeast, its rainy remnants moving into the mid-Atlantic states and New England by the middle of next week.
North Carolina alone is forecast to get 9.6 trillion gallons, enough to cover the Tar Heel state to a depth of about 10 inches.
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