Sept. 15 (UPI) — One day after Hurricane Florence slammed into North Carolina, at least five people have died, nearly 1 million are without power and about 300 were rescued from rising waters.
As a tropical storm, Florence is moving at 2 mph — about as fast as someone could walk, the National Hurricane Center said Saturday morning. The storm has moved about 100 miles since making landfall — about 4 mph on average — as a Category 1 hurricane. The storm, with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph, has moved from North Carolina to South Carolina.
On Saturday morning, President Donald Trump approved a disaster declaration for eight North Carolina counties. Federal funding can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses as well as other aid both for homeowners and business owners.
Up to 40 inches of rain and storm surges pushing water inland will produce catastrophic flash flooding, the National Hurricane Center said. Rivers in North Carolina are predicted to crest higher than during 2016’s Hurricane Matthew in some areas, emergency officials said.
Before the storm, the U.S. Geological Survey predicted Florence would cause beach erosion along about three-quarters of the North Carolina coast.
Since Florence went ashore at 7:15 a.m. Friday, gusts of winds in the 50 to 100 mph hour range were reported. The heavy rainfall and storm surge have been more problematic than wind speed.
The city of Swansboro had more than 30 inches, breaking the all-time record for rainfall in a tropical system in North Carolina.
The death toll originally was reported Saturday as rising to seven when Carteret County Emergency Services in Beaufort, N.C., confirmed two people died. But it later confirmed the two fatalities were a murder-suicide during active hurricane conditions.
On Friday, five people were reported killed, including a mother and baby in Wilmington. Wilmington police reported a tree fell on a house, killing the pair around 9:30 a.m. The father, who was was pulled from the home, was transported to a local hospital with injuries, police said.
Another of the deaths occurred in Lenoir County, when a 78-year-old man was plugging in a generator, according to WNCN-TV, trying to connect two extension cords outside in the rain.
A fourth death was a 77-year-old Kinston man, who family members said died at 8 a.m. Friday when he was “blown down by the wind” while tending dogs.
In Pender County, a woman called for help, but died of a heart attack because emergency crews couldn’t reach her due to trees that had fallen in the road.
“Our hearts go out to the families of those who died in this storm,” Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement Friday. “Hurricane Florence is going to continue its violent grind across our state for days. Be extremely careful and stay alert.”
A North Carolina man woke up to tree branches in his bedroom New Bern home.
Harry Mathias III said his father was sleeping when a tree came crashing through the ceiling.
“About an hour after he fell asleep, a piece of drywall came in from the ceiling woke him, along with the rest of us, with a loud bang,” he told CNN. “After taking a look we realized rain water was coming in and tree branches were coming in from the attic.”
He added: “If the tree had fallen about 3-4 more feet, it would have crushed my father to death.”
Rescuers were working to save people trapped in their homes.
“We were out all night last night actually cutting holes in people’s roofs because the water levels rose so high, so quick,” Lt. Mitchell Ruslander from Swift-water rescue told CNN.
“It’s just way more than I expected … Absolute worst is the flooding.”
On Saturday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said 6,500 National Guard, 7,500 Coast Guard and FEMA Urban Search and Rescue personnel have been deployed. Forty-three helicopters and 1,300 high-water trucks are being used.
Close to 1 million people were without power Saturday morning — 729,794 of 4.5 million customers in North Carolina and 141,206 out of 2.3 million in South Carolina, according to Poweroutages.us at 12:30 p.m.
Several airports have suspended operations, including Charleston International Airport and Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
More than 400 flights in and out of the region scheduled for this weekend were also canceled, according to flight-tracking site FlightAware.com.
And all the ponies on North Carolina’s Ocracoke Island are safe, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore posted on Twitter.