'Relentless' Florence moves inland

Hurricane dumps rain, cuts power, topples trees and threatens floods in Carolinas

By Reuters
  • Published 16.09.18
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A mother and her infant were killed when this tree fell on their house as Hurricane Florence roared across Wilmington, North Carolina, on Friday. (AFP)

Wilmington, North Carolina: Tropical Storm Florence trudged inland on Saturday, flooding rivers and towns, toppling trees and cutting power to nearly a million homes and businesses as it dumped huge amounts of rain on North and South Carolina, where five persons have died.

Florence diminished from hurricane strength as it came ashore on Friday, but forecasters said the 560km slow progress across the two states could leave much of the region under water in the coming days.

The National Hurricane Center said the storm would dump as much as 76-102cm of rain on the southeastern coast of North Carolina and part of northeastern South Carolina, as well as up to 25cm in southwestern Virginia.

"This storm is relentless and excruciating," North Carolina governor Roy Cooper told CNN late on Friday. "There is probably not a county or a person that will not be affected in some way by this very massive and violent storm."

At 1200GMT, the hurricane centre said Florence had maximum sustained winds near 80kmph and continued to produce catastrophic flooding in the Carolinas. It said it was located about 55km west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and forecasters predicted a slow westward march.

"Gradual weakening is forecast while Florence moves farther inland during the next couple of days, and it is expected to weaken to a tropical depression" by Saturday night, the centre said in a bulletin.

On Thursday, Florence was a Category 3 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale with 193km. It was downgraded to Category 1 before coming ashore on Friday near Wrightsville Beach close to Wilmington, North Carolina. The hurricane centre downgraded Florence to a tropical storm later in the day.

About 10 million people could be affected by the storm.

A mother and baby were killed when a tree fell on their home in Wilmington. The child's injured father was hospitalised. In Pender county, a woman died of a heart attack. Paramedics trying to reach her were blocked by debris.

Two persons died in Lenoir county. A 78-year-old man was electrocuted attempting to connect extension cords while another man died when he was blown down by high winds while checking on his hunting dogs, a county spokesman said.

In New Bern, at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers in North Carolina, the storm surge overwhelmed the town of 30,000.

Officials in New Bern, which dates to the early 18th century, said more than 100 people were rescued from floods and the downtown are was under water by Friday afternoon. A spokesman for the town said between 60 and 75 people were awaiting rescue on Saturday morning.

New Bern's mayor told CNN that 4,200 homes were damaged in the city. Resident Jay Manning said he and his wife watched with alarm as water filled the street.

"We moved all the furniture up in case the water comes in but the water seems to be staying at the edge of the driveway," he said, adding that if the wind picks up and the rain keeps coming, that could change. "My wife's in a panic right now."

Dan Eudy said he and his brother were awakened on Thursday night by the sound of a boat ramming against his front porch. Eudy said his family stayed in their home partly to protect their house.

Authorities in North Carolina said nearly 814,000 customers were without power. The figure for South Carolina was 170,000 customers.

More than 22,600 people in North Carolina were housed in 150 shelters statewide, including schools, churches and Wake Forest University's basketball arena.

In South Carolina there were 7,000 people staying in shelters, according to the state's emergency management office.