Hurricane Lili and the remains of Tropical Storm Marco locked pincers on the South yesterday with a combination of powerful winds, heavy surf and drenching rains. At least 12 people have died in the storms.
Lili lurked off the shore of North Carolina, a weakling among hurricanes, spinning harmless 8-foot waves into the Outer Banks. Its winds were clocked at 75 mph, barely above the hurricane threshold of 74 mph.
At the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables, Fla., forecasters said Lili appeared to be veering north sooner than expected, decreasing the threat of a direct hit on the mid-Atlantic coast.
At 10:30 p.m. EDT, Lili's center was about 265 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., and was moving northwest at about 14 mph.
"It poses less threat to the East Coast now," said Herb White of the National Weather Service in Raleigh, N.C. "Now it's projected to parallel the coast a little farther out."
Forecasters said gale-force winds could extend 75 miles inland along the storm's route.
Tourists in North Carolina packed ferries to flee islands off the Outer Banks, although the most noticeable signs of the storm were waves big enough to thrill surfers.
"I'm a little bit nervous, for my parents' sake," said Tom Sherer, 18, of Coinjock, N.C., riding a skim board on the waves. "They're sort of worried."
"Worried we're going to get hurt," added Mike Vernon, 16, of Currituck, N.C.
The convergence of Lili and Marco, plus the dying remnants of Tropical Storm Klaus, brought a third day of rain and dangerous flooding to parts of the coastal Southeast.
"We got so much rain, so fast . . . . We've never had anything like this," said Pam Smith, director of the Richmond County Emergency Management Agency in Augusta, Ga., whose west side was swamped by floodwaters.
In South Carolina, where floods Thursday carried caskets out of a graveyard, state climatologist John Purvis said some places had the most rainfall in a century.
In Georgia, four people drowned in rising floodwaters that ravaged the Augusta area. The floods were blamed on the remnants of Marco, which blew north out of the Gulf of Mexico Thursday.
The victims included a man, 80, who drowned as he and his wife struggled to leave their car at a flooded railroad track north of Augusta. Coroner Thomas King said the man was swept away in floodwaters, while his wife managed to escape.
Three people also drowned in Jefferson County, about 50 miles southwest of Augusta, sheriff's Deputy Mark Williamson said.
On Thursday, three people drowned in South Carolina, and two died in storm-related traffic accidents in North Carolina.
In Augusta and surrounding Richmond County, officials closed all roads and declared a state of emergency, Smith said.
"All of our roads are flooded," she said. "People are trapped in their homes. People are hollering out for help through their windows. Some are on the rooftops. There are people in their cars floating down the road."
Emergency officials began evacuating families in the Augusta area early yesterday.
Smith estimated that several hundred people had been moved from their flooded homes by boat or four-wheel-drive vehicles by afternoon. About 100 had been taken to a shelter, and the rest stayed with friends or family, she said.
An estimated 52,000 students missed classes as schools in three counties closed. Augusta College canceled morning classes, and most city and county government offices closed.
At Appling, northwest of Augusta, 8.6 inches of rain was measured during a 24-hour period.
In western North Carolina, a rural one-lane bridge collapsed, and a mudslide squeezed traffic on a nearby highway to one lane. Authorities said no one was on the bridge when it collapsed.