Hurricane Florence Drenches North Carolina, Leaving 4 Dead and Causing Widespread Outages

By Anonymous

NEW BERN, N.C.—Florence started its slow march across the Southeast Friday, pounding North Carolina with rain, forcing hundreds of people to be rescued from floodwaters and claiming at least four lives.

The storm, which made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, N.C., at about 7:15 a.m., began what could be a dayslong deluge in the region, with rain forecast to potentially reach 40 inches in some areas. About 750,000 people were without power and about 210,000 were staying in 170 shelters in the Carolinas. The storm made landfall just 2 miles from where it was expected and it remains to be seen if its impact is as forecasters fear.

At least four people have died in storm conditions in the state, according to authorities. The deaths include a person killed in Lenoir County while plugging in a generator, and a mother and infant killed in Wilmington, N.C., when a tree fell on a home, according to North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s office. A woman in Pender County also died when a fallen tree prevented emergency crews from reaching her while she suffered a heart attack, a county spokeswoman said.

Entire communities could be “wiped away” by historic flooding, Mr. Cooper said Friday. “The storm is going to continue its violent grind across our state for days.”

“We’re all kind of waiting. There’s a little bit of apprehension as you can imagine,” said Major Mark Craddock with the Salvation Army of Cape Fear, who was hunkered down with about 30 others at the organization’s shelter in downtown Wilmington, about three blocks from the Cape Fear River.

The National Hurricane Center downgraded Florence to a tropical storm due to its slow wind speed Friday afternoon but didn’t change its warnings of storm surges, flooding and heavy rainfall.

Since Florence made landfall, here's what you need to know about the dangerous East Coast storm. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Trump is expected to travel to areas affected by the hurricane next week, the White House said Friday.

To help with power outages, utility companies staged nearly 40,000 workers from 17 states on the outskirts of the storm, waiting until it is safe enough to move in. Utility poles were piled up alongside Interstate 95 to replace those snapped by winds and debris.

Between one million and three million power outages are expected, warned Duke Energy Corp. , the large power provider based in Charlotte, N.C. It warned that the hardest-hit communities could wait weeks for the power to come back on.

The Southeast’s big industries battened down. Meat companies including Tyson Foods Inc., Smithfield Foods Inc., Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. and Wayne Farms LLC shut down operations from Pennsylvania to North Carolina and Virginia. While some meat processors shifted production to plants outside the storm’s path, in other cases processing was put on hold altogether. Farmers worked to protect livestock and waste lagoons from heavy rains, and travel ground to a halt.

The disruption in North Carolina—the second-largest pork producing state, with nearly as many hogs as human residents—meant about 135,000 fewer hogs were slaughtered than forecast earlier in the week, according to Archer Financial Services, helping to boost wholesale pork prices.

The projected rainfall could present a problem for the power industry’s 26 coal-ash ponds in the Carolinas. Utilities were monitoring these facilities, which store toxic waste from coal-burning power plants. A heavy rain that caused the ponds to overflow could create an environmental catastrophe.

Ryan Maue, a meteorologist at weather.us, said the storm will dump approximately 10 trillion gallons of water on North Carolina, about a quarter of the annual total. That’s roughly double the rainfall from Hurricane Matthew in 2016, he said. He estimated a total of 18 trillion gallons will fall on all affected states.

If the current forecasts hold, many regions could see “a flood of biblical proportions,” said Rick Neuherz, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service. “This could be our Harvey.”

New Bern, N.C., quickly became a trouble spot as floodwaters rose. In New Bern, along the Neuse River, emergency responders pulled off some 200 rescues overnight and Friday morning, and about 150 people were still awaiting help, city spokeswoman Colleen Roberts said. The entire area had lost electricity, and some people were in chest-deep water while others retreated to attics, she said.

The area’s storm surge had reached 9 feet downtown and water was up over the tops of street signs, said Capt. Donald Gurkin with the Greenville, N.C., Fire-Rescue, who was in New Bern as part of a state task force. “Our guys are tired.”

Clara Phillips, who lives in the Brices Creek area of New Bern, sat on her screened-in back porch on Friday, watching as the wind pushed trees to and fro. Two pines had already fallen and an oak looked likely to drop on her neighbor’s home. Her front yard was littered with shingles ripped from the houses across the street.

“We have a birch that we planted two years ago that looks like it’s doing calisthenics,” she said. “It’s just touching its toes and standing up, touching its toes and standing up.”

Wind and Rain

Hurricane Florence Drenches North Carolina, Leaving 4 Dead and Causing Widespread Outages

Expected rainfall of 10 inches or more through Sunday

50% or greater chance for hurricane force winds

Potential storm surge through Sunday

6 ft.

3 ft.

1 ft.

9 ft.

Populated places

Florence’s path

VIRGINIA

NORTH CAROLINA

TENNESSEE

Winston-Salem

Raleigh

Charlotte

Fayetteville

Wilmington

Columbia

SOUTH CAROLINA

GEORGIA

Charleston

Hurricane Florence Drenches North Carolina, Leaving 4 Dead and Causing Widespread Outages

Expected rainfall of 10 inches or more through Sunday

50% or greater chance for hurricane force winds

Potential storm surge through Sunday

9 ft.

6 ft.

3 ft.

1 ft.

Populated places

Florence’s path

VIRGINIA

NORTH CAROLINA

Winston-Salem

Raleigh

Charlotte

Fayetteville

Wilmington

Columbia

SOUTH CAROLINA

GEORGIA

Charleston

Hurricane Florence Drenches North Carolina, Leaving 4 Dead and Causing Widespread Outages

Expected rainfall of 10 inches or more through Sunday

50% or greater chance for hurricane force winds

Potential storm surge through Sunday

1 ft.

3 ft.

6 ft.

9 ft.

Populated places

Florence’s path

VIRGINIA

NORTH CAROLINA

TENNESSEE

Winston-Salem

Raleigh

Charlotte

Fayetteville

Wilmington

Columbia

SOUTH CAROLINA

GEORGIA

Charleston

Hurricane Florence Drenches North Carolina, Leaving 4 Dead and Causing Widespread Outages

Expected rainfall of 10 inches or more

through Sunday

50% or greater chance of hurricane winds

Potential storm surge through Sunday

9 ft.

3 ft.

6 ft.

1 ft.

Populated places

VIRGINIA

Florence’s path

NORTH CAROLINA

Raleigh

Charlotte

Wilmington

Charleston

GEORGIA

Her neighbors, a couple and their 14-month-old son from across the street, had come to her home because their roof was leaking.

Down the coast in Jacksonville, N.C., emergency responders evacuated 62 people from a hotel early Friday morning. Portions of the hotel’s roof collapsed and cinder blocks that are part of the hotel began to crumble.

Meanwhile, by early afternoon Friday in South Carolina, tens of thousands of residents were without power in Horry County, which includes Myrtle Beach. The rest of the state braced for widespread outages and flooding.

Hurricane Florence Drenches North Carolina, Leaving 4 Dead and Causing Widespread Outages

A tree uprooted by strong winds lies across a street in Wilmington, N.C., on Friday. Photo: Chuck Burton/Associated Press

In Florence County, officials ordered residents along Black Creek and the Lynches River to evacuate by noon Saturday, because of the risk of flooding. Early Friday afternoon, with water levels still low, residents still appeared to be in place in the area, parts of which are thickly forested and accessible only by dirt roads.

At the Hotel Florence, in the City of Florence, the bar and restaurant has become a hub for displaced locals and those fleeing the shore. Marc Kaplan and his wife, Becky Kaplan, have been camped out at the hotel since leaving their home in coastal Little River, S.C., a mandatory evacuation zone, on Wednesday.

“You have to take each one of these storms as they come at you,” said Ms. Kaplan, who said this was the first time they’d evacuated in more than two decades. “This one was all over the place.”

Near the landfall site in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., Mayor Bill Blair said he found little damage on his initial end-to-end tour of the 4-mile-long barrier island on Friday morning. But by the late afternoon, ocean waves had breached the dunes and washed over roads, and some docks were completely submerged. An $11 million investment to widen the beach by about 100 yards last winter was largely washed away.

Mayor Blair said the arrival of the backside of the storm coincided with high tide, creating a massive surge of water within hours.

“When you see the movies with the tsunami pushing the water right up all at once?” he said. “It was kind of like that. It was just scary.”

—Jon Kamp, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Russell Gold and Jacob Bunge contributed to this article.

Write to Erin Ailworth at [email protected] and Valerie Bauerlein at [email protected]