Beneath the slow-moving but massive storm, North Carolinians are bracing Sunday for what could be the worst destruction to their communities yet from Hurricane Florence, as the continuing historic rainfall threatens to send rivers and lakes spilling out across the state.
“We are expecting that our rivers will rise to levels that we haven’t seen in the last 50 to 75 years,” Mitch Colvin, the mayor of Fayetteville, said on “Good Morning America” on Sunday. If people do choose to stay behind, he added, they should notify their next of kin because help might not be available in life-threatening situations.
His warning comes after 13 people in the Carolinas already died over the weekend from various effects of the storm, according to the Associated Press. A woman and her infant son died after a tree fell on their home in Wilmington, N.C.; separately, an 81-year-old man and a 77-year-old man both fell and died during the storm; a 78-year-old man was electrocuted and died in Lenoir County; a married couple died in a house fire in Cumberland County; two people died from flash flooding in Duplin County; a woman died from a heart attack in Pender County; and in South Carolina, two people died from inhaling carbon monoxide in their generator-powered home, and a woman drove into a tree and was killed.
More than 1 million people were ordered to evacuate parts of the southeastern coast, but plenty chose to ride it out or did not have the means to leave, with thousands crowding emergency shelters and expecting to be stuck there for days.
Bands of record-setting rainfall swept the state Saturday, unleashing more than 30 inches of rain and flooding southern and eastern parts of North Carolina. And it’s expected to keep raining for another few days. Conditions across the state’s roads have worsened over the weekend, making it difficult for people to leave their homes and get help after days of being stranded. Officials worry people may try to drive through deep water, or get caught in flash floods on the roadways, if they venture out.
Police in Fayetteville said on Twitter that first responders might not be able to enter flooded areas after 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
“It’s bad right now, and we do expect it to get worse over the coming days,” Michael Sprayberry, director of North Carolina Emergency Management, said in an interview on ABC Sunday. He added that more than 1,000 search and rescue personnel are roaming the state with 200 boats to retrieve people.
At least 20,000 people were staying in shelters across North Carolina as of Friday, according to the Washington Post.
“This is historic and unprecedented flooding,” he said.
Florence, which was downgraded to a tropical depression from a Category 1 Hurricane after it made landfall in North Carolina on Friday, left 1 million people without power as it sluggishly advanced through the state. Nearly 700,000 people were still without power Sunday morning. The National Weather Service predicts moderate to major flooding in the Cape Fear, Neuse, Black, Haw and Yadkin rivers into this week.
In Fayetteville, the Cape Fear River may crest at 62 feet Tuesday morning, according to the Fayetteville Observer. People living along Cumberland County’s river banks are being ordered to evacuate over fears that a local dam won’t be able to hold back any more water.
The entire state is at risk for flash flooding into Sunday, according to the North Carolina Department of Transportation, so residents are still being urged to move to higher ground.
Hope Mills, a Cumberland County suburb, warned residents late Saturday night that flood waters could overtake the town’s dam sometime Sunday. When the dam crested during Hurricane Matthew in 2016, the Hope Mills area effectively became cut off from the town, according to the Charlotte Observer. The dam is structurally sound and is working, Jackie Warner, the town’s mayor, said in a Facebook post Sunday morning, but the concern is primarily that water could exceed the lake’s banks.
Nearly 1,000 people were scattered across seven Cumberland County shelters as of early Sunday morning, waiting out the rain. People living along the banks of the Cape Fear River and Little River have been ordered to evacuate by town and county officials.
Duke Energy, a large utility in the state, reported that a slope in its coal-ash landfill collapsed at its coastal, coal-fired L.V. Sutton Power Station. The plant was retired in 2013. The toxic runoff there likely dumped into the plant’s cooling pond, the company said, and it’s not yet clear if the contamination has flowed into any other bodies of water.