Florence, the once-powerful hurricane that swept across the Carolinas in recent days, has prompted a widespread emergency across all of North Carolina, from the ocean east to mountain west. Floodwaters are expected to push many rivers to all-time highs and could spur life-threatening landslides as the storm’s remnants move west.
9:15 p.m.: Death toll rises to 32 in Carolinas, Virginia
Officials said Monday that they had linked 32 deaths to the storm, most of them in North Carolina, a number that had nearly doubled since a day earlier.
North Carolina authorities said they had confirmed 25 deaths there by Monday evening, including at least three children between the ages of three months and one year. State officials have repeatedly stressed that the storm’s dangers had not relented even as it moved away from the state, and as if to emphasize that point, the list of fatalities released Monday included at least four deaths that were discovered or occurred earlier in the day.
“Catastrophic flooding and tornadoes are still claiming lives and property,” Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said at a briefing earlier in the day. “For most parts of North Carolina, the danger is still immediate.”
The toll in North Carolina included 1-year-old Kaiden Lee-Welch, who the Union County, N.C., sheriff’s office said died after being swept away by floodwaters. Authorities said they believe that the child’s mother’s car was swept away after she passed around barricades and drove into rushing water; the mother was able to take the child out of the car seat but he was swept away, officials said.
Also on Monday, a 73-year-old man in Sampson County died of his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease when the storm left him without power for his oxygen concentrator, officials said. A 65-year-old man was found dead in a submerged vehicle in Scotland County, state authorities said, while the body of a person whose age was not immediately known was found in Anson County after being washed off of the road.
South Carolina officials said Monday night they had six storm-related deaths there. Authorities in Chesterfield County, Va., linked one death to an apparent tornado that spun off from the storm Monday and caused a building to partially collapse.
— Mark Berman
8:27 p.m.: Death toll rises to 24 after tornadoes rake through Virginia
Authorities in Chesterfield County, Va., say one person was killed in the remnants of Florence when part of a furniture store collapsed after an apparent tornado touched down in the region.
Jason Elmore, public information officer for Chesterfield fire and emergency services, wrote on Twitter that one other person in the store was taken to a hospital with a minor injury. “All other employees accounted for.”
The National Weather Service said it started receiving reports of severe weather around 3 p.m. as torrential rain swirled around the Richmond area — the remnants of Hurricane Florence:
Trees down, Beach Road and Winterpock.
Member of the public reports tornado — structural damage.
Tornado on the ground with visible debris.
The NWS issued dozens of tornado warnings around the Virginia capital Monday afternoon as a line of strong thunderstorms tracked through the northwest suburbs, one after the other. Torrential rain was accompanied by frequent lightning and, on occasion, debris from trees and buildings in the paths of the twisters.
The NWS said it would survey the storm damage Tuesday.
— Angela Fritz
5:53 p.m.: Only 10 percent have flood insurance on hard-hit Carolina coast
The Washington Posts’s Wonkblog did an extensive analysis and found that only 10 percent of homeowners in the counties that have suffered heavy flooding (above 4 inches) have flood insurance. This is a big deal because people with flood insurance can get as much as $250,000 to rebuild their homes (and another $100,000 for replacing damaged possessions). The other 90 percent will have to rely on FEMA aid, which is typically less than $5,000 a home, and their own financial resources.
Wonkblog found that two of the hardest-hit areas of North Carolina — around New Bern and Wilmington — have some of the lowest levels of flood insurance of all the Atlantic Coast areas below Virginia.
— Heather Long
5:15 p.m.: About 1,200 roads remain closed in North Carolina
The North Carolina Department of Transportation reported Monday afternoon that about 1,200 road closures remained due to flooding and debris left behind by Florence; among the roads were parts of Interstates 95 and 40 as well as other key routes in the state.
The department’s aviation division released drone footage captured Monday that showed a waterlogged stretch of Interstate 40 in Pender County.
This isn't a river...this is Interstate 40. @NCAviation captured this drone footage today as part of damage assessment near mile marker 387 in Pender County. This illustrates our message that travel in this area is impassable and unsafe. #FlorenceNC pic.twitter.com/28Ok6Tjpcu— NCDOT (@NCDOT) September 17, 2018
— Mark Berman
4:35 p.m.: “There are still a lot of people there”
LUMBERTON, N.C. — A temporary berm hastily constructed to prevent the Lumber River from surging into the west side of town collapsed Sunday night, sending a blast of sand and mud across the road and unleashing torrents of water into neighborhoods.
The sandbag barrier had been built by volunteers late last week in hopes of preventing Florence’s floodwaters from pouring through a spot where Hurricane Matthew had caused damage just two years ago. Lee Hester, deputy commander of Lumberton Rescue and EMS, estimated that there were as many as 800 homes in the flooded neighborhood.
“Some people left after Matthew,” he said. “But there are still a lot of people there.”
By Monday afternoon, the sky had cleared and Lumberton residents had their first glimpse of sunshine in almost a week. But Florence was not finished wreaking destruction. The surging Lumber River engulfed streets and homes and made many roads in the city impassable. Even members of the indomitable Cajun Navy were stymied by the swift, muddy current.
“Turn around!” came the call over John Greenwell’s radio. The coast guard veteran from Indiana, a volunteer with the Cajun Navy since 2016, advised his partner to back their truck away from the flooded road. The ground was not even visible below the dark water.
Eventually, it was determined that the flooded section of West Fifth street was rescuers’ only option to get back to the fire station where they were based. So, which much splashing and cursing, they drove on through.
The hulking trucks of the Cajun Navy volunteers made it across. A tiny Toyota did not. Tow trucks were stationed on the other side of the bridge, waiting to pick up anyone who stalled out.
— Sarah Kaplan
2:45 p.m.: Hurricane Florence could cost up to $22 billion, analysts say
The storm once known as Hurricane Florence could cost the region as much as $22 billion, most of it in property losses, according to an analysis released Monday.
This preliminary estimate from Moody’s Analytics also warned that this number could rise, reporting that “there is a high probability that Florence’s costs will be revised significantly higher with added information or inland flooding.”
Moody’s Analytics said it estimated between $16 and $20 billion in property losses, a number that it said will be revised when the final extent of the flood damage is made clear. It also estimated between $1 billion and $2 billion in lost economic output, which the analysts said was somewhat minimized by Florence’s arrival late in the week and over the weekend.
— Mark Berman
2:30 p.m.: Flooding blocking some roads to nuclear reactors
The Nuclear Regulatory Agency over the weekend declared a “hazardous event” due to difficulty that Duke Energy workers were having getting to the company’s two Brunswick nuclear reactors.
The NRC said that “on site conditions” were “sufficient to prohibit the plant staff from accessing the site via personal vehicles due to flooding of local roads.”
Duke spokeswoman Rita Sipe said Monday that the company does not have any employees stranded and that “there was no flooding at the site.” She said that the main road into the plant was clear but that some local roads were blocked by flooding and fallen trees. Nonetheless, she said that the nuclear plant was fully staffed.
— Steven Mufson
1:30 p.m.: FEMA postpones test of system letting Trump text you during emergencies
FEMA said Monday afternoon that because of the ongoing impact of Florence, it was delaying a scheduled test of a system meant to allow presidents to send out a nationwide text during an emergency.
The agency, along with the Federal Communications Commission, had planned to test the system Thursday afternoon. The test would have included sending something out through the Wireless Emergency Alerts system, which would have meant sending messages labeled “Presidential Alert” to cellphones that were on and near active cell towers, according to FEMA. The agency said the test would be rescheduled for Oct. 3.
— Mark Berman
1:20 p.m.: Environmental hazards begin to mount after Florence
Numerous environmental hazards are materializing in the Carolinas in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. A number of sewer systems have been overwhelmed, and are releasing untreated or partially treated water, according to Reggie Cheatham, the Environmental Protection Agency’s director of emergency management.
In a teleconference with reporters Tuesday, Cheatham and other federal officials outlined the challenges in responding to the storm, the remnants of which had reached the border of West Virginia and Kentucky.
“We have observed releases of wastewater from manholes, from overtopped sewer areas in the impacted zone,” he said. Cheatham said the wastewater treatment system in Onslow County, which experienced a storm surge during Florence’s landfall, suffered a “catastrophic” failure.
“They basically had to deal with the storm surge, loss of power, and obviously shut down pumps and the system completely depressurized and they haven’t been able to bring that back up,” he said.
He said the wastewater system in Wilmington had released partially treated water in the Cape Fear River. Other sites that experienced releases of wastewater include the eastern North Carolina communities of Princeton and Kenansville, Cheatham said, adding, “That’s just a snapshot of what I’ve got in front of me right now.”
Meanwhile, a second breach has occurred in a coal ash storage pit at a Duke Energy facility in Wilmington. Flooding had damaged a containment wall this weekend and led to an estimated 2,000 cubic yards of coal ash flowing into a ditch not far from the Cape Fear River. Duke Energy employees and contractors worked with heavy machinery to create a new berm to contain the material, which the company said posed no hazard to the public or the environment.
The details of the second breach remain unclear: “The particular volume of the release is unknown at this time and is currently being investigated,” Cheatham said.
A CSX train hauling chemicals, including what Cheatham described as butanol, derailed late Sunday in Anson County, N.C., south of Charlotte and near the South Carolina border. Cheatham said eight cars derailed because of washed-out tracks. The butanol did not spill, but an unknown volume of diesel fuel spilled and gathered in a low-lying area. The fuel did not reach the Pee Dee River, he said.
— Joel Achenbach
12:35 p.m.: Death toll from Florence rises to 23, officials say
Authorities in North Carolina and South Carolina said Monday that at least 23 deaths have been blamed on the storm, a number that has steadily risen each day as rain has pounded the region and floodwaters have spread throughout both states.
Most of the deaths were confirmed in North Carolina, where Gov. Roy Cooper said that as of Monday morning, 17 people had died as a result of the storm.
“The crisis in North Carolina continues,” Cooper (D) said at a briefing Monday afternoon. “Catastrophic flooding and tornadoes are still claiming lives and property. For most parts of North Carolina, the danger is still immediate.”
South Carolina officials said they had confirmed six storm-related deaths there as of Monday afternoon.
North Carolina officials have not released details about all of the deaths linked to the storm, but grim information continued to emerge about the lives lost. On Monday, the Union County, N.C., sheriff’s office said that 1-year-old Kaiden Lee-Welch died after being swept away by floodwaters.
Sheriff’s office officials think that the child’s mother’s car was swept away after she passed around barricades and drove into rushing water; the mother was able to take the child out of the car seat but he was swept away, officials said.
Other cases where authorities have released information include a 41-year-old woman and her 7-month-old son killed Friday in Wilmington when a tree fell on their home; a 78-year-old man in Lenoir County who was electrocuted; a 77-year-old man there who fell and died because of a cardiac issue; and a husband and wife in Cumberland County who died in a house fire. Officials in North Carolina have attributed two deaths in Duplin County to people being on the road during flash flooding, and another in Pender County to a woman who had a heart attack but could not be reached by emergency officials because of debris.
In South Carolina, state officials said the dead included a 61-year-old woman and 63-year-old man killed by carbon monoxide poisoning; a 61-year-old woman in Union County who was driving and struck a tree; and a 23-year-old man in Georgetown County who was killed in a car crash.
“We mourn the loss of each and every life and our hearts go out to their friends and their family,” Cooper said. “We hope there’s not another life lost, but we know that raging rivers are still out there.”
Cooper said first responders have reported rescuing more than 2,600 people during the storm.
“I know people are eager to get back to work and get back to school,” he said. “Many of us are even seeing the sun for the first time in days . . . I urge you, if you don’t have to drive, stay off the road.”
— Mark Berman
12 p.m.: Worrying about the bridge in Dillon
In Dillon County, S.C., just south of the North Carolina border, Ryan Herring, 29, and other family members went to his brother’s home Monday morning to move all of his belongings.
As they loaded cushions and furniture into a trailer, the nearby Little Pee Dee River under a bridge was steadily rising.
“When we got here an hour ago, the water wasn’t even touching the steps,” Herring said.
Down the street from the house, the river had nearly risen to the top of a bridge. A blue mail box and a business across from it were half-submerged. One house is completely underwater, with only the roof visible from above.
Still, residents living on the other side of the street that’s yet to flood said they aren’t evacuating. Taylor Godbolt said she lives on a hill and has stocked up on water and food.
“This is way worse [than Hurricane Matthew], and this river is not supposed to crest until tomorrow,” Godbolt, 25, said. “This bridge is going to wash out,” she added, saying that the bridge is their way to get to the center of town in Dillon, S.C.
“We’re going to be kind of stuck here. Everything we have is in Dillon — grocery stores, food sources, gas, everything.”
— Kristine Phillips
The death toll from Florence has risen to 18. One-year-old Kaiden Lee-Welch died after being swept away in Union County, N.C., the county sheriff’s office said. Investigators think Kaiden’s mother drove around barricades on North Carolina Highway 218, and her car was then swept away by rushing water. The mother was able to take Kaiden out of her car seat, but he was swept from her arms by the water.
— Katie Zezima
9:55 a.m.: Nearly half a million without power while roadways remain flooded
In storm-battered North Carolina, authorities said Monday morning that nearly half a million power outages remained while scores of roadways across the state were still closed.
For those seeking refuge at home, power outages are a lingering issue. More than 486,000 power outages were reported by 9:20 a.m., according to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.
Across the state, meanwhile, road after road was rendered impassable by the storm. Transportation officials said a number of state roads, interstates and local avenues were blocked, with nearly 100 such flooded roads in Anson County alone. The North Carolina Department of Transportation also reported that “several” parts of Interstate 95 and Interstate 40 were flooded. (North Carolina residents should head here for a full list.)
— Mark Berman
9:45 a.m.: The misery of the Carolinas in Florence’s wide path of destruction
Florence may be moving away from the area, but the Carolinas are still facing widespread misery that the storm left behind. Head here for a visual story that delves into what it is like on the ground.
8:47 a.m.: “We cannot beg you enough to stay off the roads.”
Much of rural Marion County in northeastern South Carolina has been evacuated in the past two days amid Florence’s continuing rains and the threat of catastrophic flooding caused by several rising rivers.
Marion County Administrator Tim Harper said 373 people from three towns were moved to emergency shelters. Nearly the entire town of Nichols, which Hurricane Matthew destroyed two years ago, also has been evacuated. On Friday, rescuers using megaphones drove around the county telling people to leave, and members of the Coast Guard went door-to-door to take residents to shelters, Harper said.
“People in the flood-prone areas really took it seriously, and a lot of people did go to the shelters,” he said, noting lessons from Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Still, some chose to stay, as did eight people from the town of Mullins, Harper said.
In the county seat of Marion, major streets were flooded by Sunday. Officials issued dire warnings urging residents who had not evacuated to seek safety.
“We cannot beg you enough to stay off the roads,” the Marion County Sheriff’s Office said. “The list is too long to fathom of roads that are impassable.”
The most imminent threat for the county is Little Pee Dee River to the east toward the North Carolina border. The river has nearly reached nine feet, the flood stage, by Monday morning, and is expected to rise to 14.7 feet by the end of the week. West of Marion County, Great Pee Dee River has already risen to 19.4 feet, also surpassing its flood stage, and is predicted to reach nearly 30 feet by the end of the week.
— Kristine Phillips
8:39 a.m.: Trump declares major disaster for South Carolina
The White House on Monday morning announced that President Trump had approved a disaster declaration for South Carolina on Sunday, opening up federal funding for officials responding to the deluge caused by Florence. Trump similarly declared a disaster in North Carolina on Friday, the day Florence made landfall.
— Mark Berman
7:15 a.m.: What to expect today: More rain, more flooding
The remnants of the storm once known as Hurricane Florence will continue to drench parts of both Carolinas as well as western Virginia with “widespread heavy rains” on Monday, according to the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.
The same dangers that have existed for days remain acute: Flash flooding will continue as Florence drags its way northeast, the center said. Early Monday morning, the storm was about 125 miles away from Roanoke, Va. The rainfall is forecast to continue for the coming days, stretching into parts of southern New York and New England, with up to 6 inches possible in some areas.
Head to the Capital Weather Gang for more on what to expect from Florence.
— Mark Berman
6:38 a.m.: Tornado confirmed southeast of Pikeville, N.C., people warned to ‘take cover’
The National Weather Service announced at 6 a.m. Monday that a tornado was confirmed “via debris signature” southeast of Pikeville, N.C., a town located in Wayne County with a population of about 700 people. A tornado warning had been in effect for the area until 6:30 a.m., according to the NWS.
(6am) This Tornado has been confirmed via radar debris signature just southeast of Pikeville. Take Cover Now! https://t.co/nUdeAc1pxq— NWS Raleigh (@NWSRaleigh) September 17, 2018
At 5 a.m. Monday, the National Hurricane Center reported that the storm is now moving at 13 mph, increasing in speed from the previously reported 10 mph. It is expected to continue to “produce heavy and excessive rainfall over the next couple of days” as it travels in a north-northeast direction, the NHC said.
Flash flood warnings are still in effect for southern and western North Carolina, northeast South Carolina and southwest Virginia, officials said.
Noah’s Ark except it’s a school bus: Truck driver rescues 64 dogs and cats from floods of Hurricane Florence
4:36 a.m.: A flash flood watch in North Carolina county
In New Hanover County, N.C., a flash flood watch is in effect from 4:20 a.m. until 8 a.m. Monday, according to the National Weather Service.
The county includes Wilmington, which remains cut off from the rest of the state due to the rising floodwater, The Post reported.
The announcement was simultaneously tweeted out early Monday by the county and the county’s office of emergency management and 911 communications.
Flash Flood Watch issued September 17 at 4:20AM EDT until September 17 at 8:00AM EDT by NWS Wilmington— New Hanover County (@NewHanoverCo) September 17, 2018
— Timothy Bella
2:33 a.m.: South Carolina now has less than 20,000 power outages, but efforts are hampered by ‘a lot of unknowns’
The South Carolina Emergency Management Division (SCEMD) announced early Monday morning that there are now less than 20,000 power outages statewide. The storm had left about 170,000 homes and businesses in South Carolina without power, Kim McLeod, a public information coordinator with SCEMD, told The Washington Post.
There are now less than 20,000 power outages statewide.💡#ThankALineman #TeamSC #Florence #scnews #sctweets #scwx pic.twitter.com/cqP3Nq7a1J— SCEMD (@SCEMD) September 17, 2018
It is unclear when power will be fully restored, McLeod said, adding that it is likely the number of outages will fluctuate in the coming days given the storm’s unpredictable aftermath.
“There’s still a lot of moving parts and a lot of unknowns,” she said. “We don’t know what the next few days might look like.”
McLeod said officials are continuing to monitor the situation closely and are “prepared for the worst-case scenario,” but hope the number of outages will remain low.
“We’re hoping that Florence leaves quickly and we can all get back to normal soon,” she said.
— Allyson Chiu
1:01 a.m.: ‘It don’t look good’ — North Carolina county orders mandatory evacuation in preparation for potential dam breach
Hoke County (N.C.) officials announced on late Sunday night a mandatory evacuation for people living near McLaughlin Lake due to a concern that a dam could be breached as heavy rains continue to fall on the area. Hoke County is located about 25 miles west of Fayetteville, N.C.
“It is seriously damaged and we’re just getting prepared for the worst,” Scott Locklear of Hoke County’s Office of Emergency Management told The Washington Post. “It don’t look good,” Locklear said, adding that water is already coming over the dam.
According to the county’s announcement, both the Coast Guard and units from Fort Bragg are on the scene to assist with evacuations.
The National Weather Service in Raleigh, N.C., also issued an update at 11:30 p.m. Sunday on the status of six rivers in North Carolina. Officials said two of these rivers, Little River and Rocky River, are in “major flood,” meaning there is “extensive inundation of structures and roads” in certain areas along the waterways.
River Flood Warnings as of 1130 PM (1/3)...— NWS Raleigh (@NWSRaleigh) September 17, 2018
Neuse River at:
Goldsboro – Currently in Moderate Flood and rising
Smithfield – Currently in Moderate Flood and nearing crest
Clayton – Recently fell Below Flood Stage and falling pic.twitter.com/wRknhAgh6p
— Allyson Chiu
11:59 p.m.: As heavy rains continue, multiple flash flood and tornado warnings issued
The storm is expected to continue producing “widespread heavy rains over much of North Carolina and northeastern South Carolina,” the National Hurricane Center announced Sunday at 11 p.m. An additional two to five inches of rain is predicted to fall on parts of the Carolinas, the Mid-Atlantic states and southern New England. Some areas could receive as much as eight inches.
The center reported that as of Sunday night, Florence had dumped a total of 40 inches of rain in southern North Carolina and 20 inches in northern South Carolina. Due to the unceasing rain, officials warn that “flash flooding and catastrophic/historic river flooding” is still a concern for “large portions of the Carolinas.” The warnings also extend to the Mid-Atlantic and New England states, and there is a risk of landslides in affected areas.
Throughout Sunday evening, multiple flash flood warnings were issued for North Carolina and southwest Virginia, the National Weather Service tweeted. Many of these warnings are in place until Monday morning.
Numerous flash flood warnings currently in North Carolina and southwest Virginia. Can't stress this enough...flash flooding can happen anywhere, not just in the vicinity of rivers and streams. #TurnAroundDontDrown #WeatherReady pic.twitter.com/xlfMg0RAvi— National Weather Service (@NWS) September 17, 2018
Tornado warnings were also issued for several cities in North Carolina. Parts of North Carolina and South Carolina were also put on a tornado watch until 5 a.m. Monday.
A tornado watch has been issued for parts of North Carolina and South Carolina until 5 AM EDT pic.twitter.com/j9cXUvpEhU— NWS Raleigh (@NWSRaleigh) September 17, 2018
A couple tornadoes remain possible in the area through Monday, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The storm is moving north at 10 mph with maximum sustained winds of 30 mph.
— Allyson Chiu
7:27 p.m.: Storm death toll rises to 17
Officials in Gaston County, N.C., said a 3-month-old was killed Sunday when a tree fell through the family’s single-wide mobile home. The infant and the mother were taken to a hospital, where the baby died, said Maj. Jamie McConnell with Gaston County EMS.
At least 11 people have died as a result of the storm in North Carolina, and six in South Carolina.
— Katie Zezima
6:42 p.m.: At least 16 people have died in the storm
At least 16 deaths are now attributed to the storm. A woman in Lexington County, S.C., lost control of her car, hit a tree and was ejected from the vehicle, according to the South Carolina Emergency Management Division. At least six people have now died in South Carolina. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said at least 10 people have died in that state.
— Katie Zezima
6:10 p.m.: ‘Looks like we’ve got a new lake in Charlotte’
The National Weather Service declared a rare flash flood emergency for parts of Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, because streams and creeks were running unusually high, in some locations reaching record levels. Tim Habershaw and his roommate, Zachary Finley, walked in their Carolina Panthers jerseys down Central Avenue in Charlotte to view swollen Briar Creek, a normally placid brook that had turned into a torrent.
“I drove by earlier on my way home from work, and I was like, ‘Whoa, looks like we’ve got a new lake in Charlotte,’ ” said Habershaw, 51, a restaurant server who lives two miles away with Finley, 25, a line cook. “I went home and took a nap, and when I woke up, I told [Finley], ‘We’ve got to go see this.’ ”
About 3,000 miles’ worth of creeks, the vast majority little more than unnamed trickles, crisscross Mecklenburg County in a vast lacework that flows to larger rivers and, eventually, to the Atlantic Ocean. Charlotte’s rolling topography tends to funnel floodwaters into low areas that usually correspond to creek beds. Habershaw has lived in Charlotte for 30 years and said he had never seen Briar Creek as high as it was Sunday afternoon. “It’s kind of scary,” he said, “but beautiful.”
The heaviest rain fell in southeastern Mecklenburg County. Some places received 10 inches of rain this weekend.
— Greg Lacour
5:30 p.m.: Hundreds of dialysis patients rescued from their homes
Late Sunday afternoon, Tom Cotter, North Carolina team leader for the relief group AmeriCares, was waiting in the parking lot of a shelter in Wilson, N.C., for the arrival of 105 dialysis patients who were on their way by bus after having been rescued from their flooded homes in Jacksonville, N.C., 90 miles to the south. Many of them had been rescued by boats from their homes, and some had not received treatment for as many as five days.
Cotter had brought health screening devices, essential medicine, adult diapers, cleaning supplies and more. A dialysis center across the street will deliver care.
“This is very much an ongoing disaster,” Cotter said. “People are still coming into these shelters.”
— Steven Mufson
4:27 p.m.: Warily watching the rivers in South Carolina
Renee Matthews has been walking to Lynches River at least once every day, checking how far it has risen. Two days ago, the river that surrounds her family’s property in rural Florence County, S.C., was dry and barely rose past her nephew’s knee. By Sunday, the river bank was nowhere to be seen. The boat landing that leads to the bank was buried in debris, and the four-foot concrete barrier next to it was nearly submerged.
“It’s probably come up two to three feet,” she said, aiming her phone to take a picture.
“You could walk right there two days ago. You could walk all around that tree two days ago,” she said, pointing at a submerged tree. And the deluge of rain has barely started.
Flooding happens every few years in this wooded riverfront neighborhood of mobile homes and big houses, some of which were built several feet above the ground.
“The water goes all the way to the top of that house,” Matthews said, pointing at an empty vacation home that stands at least six feet from the wet, grassy land.
There has been no flooding yet in the county that shares a name with the storm. But officials are monitoring the Lynches River and other bodies of water inland as rain continues and rainfall from the north flows downstream, said Dusty Owens, director of the county’s emergency management division.
Here in Florence County, several bodies of water — the Great Pee Dee River to the east, Lynches River to the south, and Black Creek to the north, are all expected to rise. Lynches River, for example, has risen by more than five feet since Friday. The Great Pee Dee could rise to 27 feet by Thursday, surpassing the flood stage by eight feet.
“Next week, it’ll be our problem,” Matthews, 48, said. “This river’s going to keep rising.”
— Kristine Phillips
3:47 p.m.: At least 15 people dead due to the storm
At least 15 people have now died as a result of tropical depression Florence, which slammed into the Carolinas as a hurricane on Friday.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) said five people were killed in the storm: Amber Dawn Lee of Union County; Mark Carter King and Deborah Collins Ryan, who lost their lives in a generator-related incident on Saturday; Michael D. Prince, who died this morning when he lost control of his car in Georgetown County; and Jeffrey B. Youngren, who died Sunday morning in Kershaw County after driving into a support beam.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said 10 people in the state have died due to the storm.
— Felicia Sonmez
3:17 p.m.: An aging levee system holds, while a temporary barrier weakens
As the swollen Lumber River in Lumberton, N.C., rose ever higher in Sunday’s pouring rain, the aging levee system in Robeson County held strong, said county spokeswoman Emily Jones.
But a temporary sandbag barrier built by volunteers and National Guardsmen amid pouring rain this week had been “compromised” by the rising water levels, Jones said.
Water had broken through that section of the river, which passed by railway tracks on the west side of town, during Hurricane Matthew in 2016, flooding businesses and homes.
Sebastian Milton, a volunteer with the Cajun Navy who came to Lumberton from Covington, La., to help with rescue operations, said it’s a matter of time before the levee fails as well.
“That’s a man-made structure,” he said, “it can’t keep holding back the river.”
Milton and fellow volunteers were posted on a bridge overlooking the Lumber River and a flooded section of Interstate 95 on Sunday afternoon.
Their boats at the ready, they waited in pouring rain for the next emergency call to come in.
“There’s still people out there,” Milton said, gesturing toward the expanse of dark water and trees that hid flooded homes.
— Sarah Kaplan
2:49 p.m.: In Pembroke, N.C., ‘We’re having problems already.’
In Pembroke, N.C., emergency officials conducted about 120 evacuations and 20 rescues — complicated procedures like pulling people out of submerged cars — since the storm began.
Charles Gregory Cummings, the town’s mayor, said officials had been working all week to make sure that the most vulnerable people in the community were safe from the storm. Police officers gave homeless citizens rides to the local shelters and conducted daily drives through public housing complexes, using a bullhorn to inform people about the coming deluge. Pamphlets were posted at every mobile home park bearing information about the forecast and where to seek shelter. Officers checked in daily at a local senior home to make sure their generators were working and they had enough food.
On a drive through town to examine flooding “trouble spots,” Police Chief Ed Locklear noted that most of the public housing in Pembroke is located in the low-lying north side of town. There, canals and underground systems that drain water into the nearby swamp are easily overwhelmed by downpours. Several officials said that these canals were still clogged with downed trees and debris from Hurricane Matthew — the town hadn’t had the resources to fix the problem earlier, and only just received recovery funding from the federal government.
Now Locklear cruised past a street to one of those housing complexes; it was submerged beneath what looked like a foot of muddy brown water. Sandbags rested against the homes’ front doors.
“These are places that always flood,” Locklear said. “And you can see we’re having problems already.”
— Sarah Kaplan
2:34 p.m.: Trump monitoring ‘the preparedness and response efforts’
The White House, in a statement, said President Trump is monitoring the storm and its effects:
“Today, President Trump continues to monitor the preparedness and response efforts for Hurricane Florence. He was briefed again this afternoon by Sec. Nielsen, Admiral Schultz and Administrator Long. Yesterday, he spoke with Mayor Brenda Bethune of Myrtle Beach, S.C. and Mayor Dana Outlaw of New Bern, N.C. They discussed the rescue and response efforts in those communities and the President offered the full support of Federal government. Mayor Outlaw thanked President Trump for immediately authorizing the emergency declaration.”
2:31 p.m.: Mandatory evacuations in Fayetteville
City officials in Fayetteville, N.C., said at an emergency meeting of the city council on Sunday that the Cape Fear River is expected to crest at 62 feet on Tuesday and recede sometime after 8 p.m. Friday. The river is already above flood stage, and there continues to be flash flooding and critical river flooding in the area, they said.
Officials have been notifying residents that there is a mandatory evacuation order for those living within one mile of the Cape Fear and Little rivers. For other neighborhoods there is a voluntary evacuation order. There is also a curfew in effect until further notice. Thirteen roads in the city are closed so far due to high water or flooding, 50 to 60 traffic lights are out, and the city is closely monitoring the levels of nearby dams. Currently there are fewer than 10,000 people without power.
Officials also said they have been pushing back against rumors that the city’s water supply is going to be shut off later Sunday afternoon; there are no plans for water to be shut off, they said.
One official said that 160 people were transported from a nursing home to shelters last night. The city is working with EMS and others to provide transport to people in wheelchairs and those who need help getting out of bed. Officials are also working to open up more shelters for as many as 7,500 people who may be displaced.
— Felicia Sonmez
1:46 p.m.: The storm is spawning an array of safety and environmental hazards
Federal officials described an array of life-safety and environmental hazards spawned by Hurricane Florence in a Sunday afternoon teleconference. Among them: The floodwaters are potentially contaminated and could present a health hazard.
“If you can avoid contact with floodwaters, do so,” said Reggie Cheatham, director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Emergency Management.
He said there are an estimated 3,300 “hog ponds” in North Carolina that hold manure. There is concern that heavy rainfall could cause them to overflow and send hog manure into waterways.
Officials so far are “fairly confident” that farmers prepared adequately in advance of the storm to prevent the ponds from overtopping, Cheatham said. “But we’re not out of the woods yet.”
Cheatham said that, at last count, there had been 28 boil-water orders issued by local water systems.
Meanwhile there has been a significant spill of coal ash from a storage pond at a closed Duke Energy plant near Wilmington, N.C. Cheatham said 2,000 cubic yards of coal ash spilled into a ditch after floodwaters eroded a portion of the pond wall. That ditch leads to a cooling pond that has an outflow into the Cape Fear River, but he said there’s no evidence so far that the coal ash has reached that cooling pond.
Duke Energy said in a statement Saturday that the company “does not believe this incident poses a risk to public health or the environment.”
Federal officials are urging evacuees to stay where they are and not attempt to return home.
“Don’t feel a need to rush home to file a claim” said National Flood Insurance Program chief executive David Maurstad.
Coast Guard Adm. Meredith Austin said three major ports in the Carolinas remained closed, including the Cape Fear port near Wilmington. That closure is significant because the Cape Fear water utility has put out an urgent plea for fuel.
“Cape Fear is the number one priority of getting a port open,” she said. “We are aware of the need to get fuel into the port.”
FEMA associate administrator Jeff Byard provided the big picture: “This is a long event. We are definitely likely to have isolated communities.”
— Joel Achenbach
1 p.m.: ‘This storm has never been more dangerous than it is right now.’
North Carolina officials said floodwaters continue to rage and residents across nearly the entire state are in danger from torrential rainfall, rising rivers, floodwaters and, in the mountains, mudslides.
“This storm has never been more dangerous than it has right now,” in many areas of the state, Gov. Roy Cooper (D), said at a midday news conference. “Wherever you live in North Carolina, be on alert for sudden flooding.”
Cooper said numerous rivers throughout the state — including the Cape Fear, Lumber, Neuse — are still rising and not expected to crest until later Sunday or Monday. The storm has dumped nearly two feet of rain in many places, and some places are being pummeled with to three inches of rain an hour. Flooding is getting worse in parts of the state, including Pollocksville, Lumberton, Kinston and Goldsboro. The danger is growing in North Carolina’s western mountains, where rains could lead to dangerous mudslides.
Officials urged North Carolinians to stay off the roads. Many are closed; at least 171 primary roads are closed throughout the state, including portions of Interstates 95 and 40. People are urged not to drive east of Interstates 73/74 or U.S. Route 64 South. Many secondary roads are closed because of flooding.
Cooper estimated that between 750,000 and 1 million people have evacuated certain areas, a figure that will rise with expected mandatory evacuations in some places as rivers rise. About 15,000 people are staying in about 150 shelters across the state, he said. Four medical shelters are open in North Carolina, serving at least 170 patients.
More than 900 people have been rescued from floodwaters, Cooper said.
At least 700,000 people remain without power and residents should expect to be without for days because so many roads are impassible.
“People need to understand that some areas are likely to be without power for a while,” Cooper said.
The governor said food, water and high-water vehicles are being delivered to hard-hit areas. The Coast Guard has rescued at least 50 people via helicopter.
— Katie Zezima