Florence continues to batter Carolinas as depression; 14 dead

Sept. 16 (UPI) — Florence weakened into a tropical depression Sunday but it continued to produce relentless rain across the Carolinas after causing at least 14 deaths and leaving hundreds of thousands of people without electricity.

Florence, which went ashore at 7:15 a.m. Friday near Wrightsvlile, N.C., weakened into a tropical storm later in the day as it slowly moved across the state and into South Carolina, dumping more than 30 inches of rain in some places. At 5 a.m, the National Hurricane Center designated the storm a depression as it moved inland.

No deaths were reported Sunday.

Five people were killed Friday and an additional nine announced on Saturday, including the first deaths in South Carolina. In all, the storm led to the loss of life of 11 in the Tar Heel State and three in the Palmetto State.

The first fatalities included a mother and her child who died after a tree fell on their house in Wilmington, N.C., police said.

On Friday and Saturday, Florence was creeping along at around 2 p.m., which is about as fast as someone could walk. But it had picked up to 10 mph Sunday afternoon. Florence’s center was 40 miles west of Columbia, S.C., and 345 miles southwest of Raleigh, N.C.

Major portions of the Carolinas were drenched and authorities warned of continuing danger. The threat of storm surges was over but beach erosion continued. The United States Geological Survey predicted before the storm went ashore that about three-quarters of the beaches in North Carolina would be eroded.

“We’re going to get hammered,” Kevin Arata, spokesman for the city of Fayetteville, N.C., told CNN. “The worst is still yet to come.”

Rescue teams, including those from out of state, continued to bring people to safety from their flooded homes.

“We actually just rescued over 200 people, and we’ve got about another 300 to 500” left, Cajun Army President Todd Terrell told CNN on Sunday. “The water is coming up really fast.”

In New Bern, N.C., the city announced Saturday night 455 people were rescued from their flood-swamped homes.

The Coast Guard rescued 20 to 30 people Saturday from a subdivision near Jacksonville, N.C.

Kevin Futrell used a boat to help people escape the flooded River Hills subdivision.

“My boat stalled twice and I could definitely see the people in my boat were worried,” Futrell said to NBC News. “I knew I had someone else’s life in my hands.”

He got around 15 people to higher ground and the Coast Guard transported some of them to hospital for medical issues.

A total of 33.9 inches of rain was dumped in Swansboro, N.C., The Weather Channel reported, breaking the record for rainfall from a tropical system in the state. The previous record was set during Hurricane Floyd in 1999 with 24.06 inches.

The storm also was forecast to bring catastrophic flash floods and prolonged significant river flooding as it moved into far eastern West Virginia, the Hurricane Center said. It will become a remnant low as it moves near Ohio and West Virginia.

Governors have declared states of emergency in both Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland.

And U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday approved a disaster declaration for eight North Carolina counties. This designation will allow grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses as well as other aid for homeowners and business owners. No additional declarations had been announced.

Sections of two interstates, I-40 and I-95, were shut down. Also, several rivers were approaching record levels with cresting in some areas not coming until later in the week.

In Lumberton, N.C., the Lumber River was at 17.6 feet, more than four feet above flood stage, by Saturday night, and was expected to reach 24 feet by midday Sunday.

In 2016, the city was submerged from Hurricane Matthew.

And evacuations continued. Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin told residents living within a mile of the region’s main river, the Cape Fear, or the nearby Little River, that they had until 3 p.m. Sunday to leave.

“If you are refusing to leave during this mandatory evacuation, you need to do things like notify your legal next of kin because the loss of life is very, very possible,” Colvin said.

Tornadoes also remained possible across North Carolina and eastern South Carolina on Sunday, the NHC said.

And police in Wilmington arrested five people “who broke in and looted the Dollar General,” the agency posted on Twitter.

Carolinas residents without power continued to decline.

According to Poweroutages.us at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, 660,600 of 4.5 million customers in North Carolina and 43,737 out of 2.3 million in South Carolina were without electricity.

Flights were resuming at airports in the Carolinas. At Charleston International Airport, the busiest airport along the coast of the Carolinas, airlines were given the OK to resume operations Saturday afternoon. And “all our airlines are back” Sunday, the airport posted on Twitter.

Myrtle Beach airport posted on Twitter that “the majority (not all) of airlines have tentatively scheduled flight operations to resume on Sunday, September 16 around mid-morning.”

But 54 flights were already grounded for Monday and five for Tuesday, according to a report by USA Today.

American Airlines said it did not expect to restart flights at the small Pitt-Greenville Airport in North Carolina until Thursday.

More than 3,275 flights had been canceled since Wednesday, including some extending through Monday, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware.

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