JACKSONVILLE, North Carolina — In flood-hit Onslow County, there’s finally some good news: After five days of rain, floodwaters are starting to recede and the operation has turned from rescue to recovery. It's a pocket of progress in what's still an unfolding crisis.
Located about an hour north of where Florence made landfall Friday, this county of 200,000 got some of the storm’s heaviest rainfall. However, by Monday officials are starting to restore power in pockets, and the county is preparing to bring back 800 to 1,000 people who were evacuated by school buses to shelters in Raleigh, North Carolina.
But many of those people won’t be able to return to their homes due to flooding; they’ll have to remain at county shelters instead.
Onslow County is also still sheltering residents from three neighboring counties because they were cut off by floodwaters to their own shelters. “Shelterings are going to be going on for a while,” Onslow County Emergency Services Director Norman Bryson said. “Right now, how many we’ll have to shelter is a bit of a guess.”
The biggest challenge now is making sure they have enough food and water supplies, and getting the power back on across the county.
“We’re now on day five after the storm initially came into the county,” Bryson said. “There are still some areas we’re cut off from.”
Overall, the Hurricane Florence death toll is up to at least 18, including Kaiden Lee-Welch, a toddler whose body was recovered Monday after he was swept away by floodwaters when his mother lost her grip on him. Officials said the mother’s car had encountered rushing water on a state road near Charlotte and was swept into some trees. The mother was able to escape but lost her grip on her 1-year-old.
His body was found by sheriff’s deputies Monday after several hours of searching on the ground and in a nearby creek.
“We’ve never seen floods like this,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday. “The crisis in North Carolina continues. Catastrophic flooding and tornadoes are still claiming lives and property.”
In some cases, entire North Carolina towns have been submerged by rising floodwaters, and though rescues are slowing down, the worst may not be over. The National Hurricane Center said Monday that Tropical Depression Florence is expected to intensify to an Extratropical Cyclone in the next two days, bringing more potentially damaging winds and rains.
When kids can return to school will be an issue long after the floods have receded. “Almost every high school we have has been damaged,” Bryson said. “There are roofs that have been rolled out, gymnasiums that look like swimming pools, basketball courts that look like swimming pools.”
Nearly half a million people are still without power in North Carolina, according to the Department of Public Safety.
About 17,000 customers in South Carolina, mostly in the northeastern part of the state by its border with North Carolina, also lost power.
Many state roads and interstates are still impassable due to dangerous floodwaters or damage.
Meanwhile, there are lingering concerns about whether dams in North Carolina will be able to hold due to the flooding. The Associated Press obtained data showing that 1,445 out of the state’s total 5,700 dams were rated “high hazard.”
Gov. Cooper’s state of emergency declaration ahead of Florence included a ban on businesses raising their prices for necessary items during a natural disaster, like water, food supplies, and accommodations. However, the North Carolina Attorney General’s office has received more than 500 complaints from people who say that businesses are hiking their prices in violation of Cooper’s order, CNN reported.
As Florence made its way into South Carolina over the weekend, some communities have also started evacuations.
On Monday morning, President Donald Trump approved a disaster declaration for South Carolina, which allocates federal funding to areas hit by the storm (he approved similar funding in North Carolina last Friday when Florence made landfall).
The U.S. National Hurricane Center National Weather Service said Monday that Florence is headed northeast toward Virginia. On early Monday morning, the eye of the storm was approximately 125 miles from Roanoke, Virginia.
Cover: Homes and a marina are flooded as a result of high tides and rain from hurricane Florence which moved through the area in Jacksonville, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)