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‘This isn’t a river . . . this is Interstate 40’: Flooding from Florence keeps North Carolina highways at standstill

Major roadways including Interstates 95 and 40 remain closed.

The Lumber River overflows onto a stretch of Interstate 95 in Lumberton, N.C., on Sept. 18 after flooding from Hurricane Florence. (Gerry Broome/AP)

The catastrophic flooding caused by Hurricane Florence has left several major highways in North Carolina, including portions of Interstate 95, underwater. Officials are urging people to stay away.

A map of state highway conditions shows road closures all along the coastal area from Wilmington to inland communities along the I-95 corridor. Major portions of I-95 and Interstate 40 aren’t expected to reopen until later in the week, according to state estimates. Rising river levels threaten more closures, state officials said.

Florence from above: Aerial footage of flooding and damage from the hurricane

As many as 255 primary roads remained closed because of flooding Tuesday, North Carolina’s transportation chief James H. Trogdon said.

“The travel conditions are much too risky,” Trogdon said at a noon news conference.

Transportation officials on Tuesday were urging residents to stay off the roads as major freeways remain impassable. They asked residents not to return to New Hanover, Brunswick or Pender counties, as travel conditions there remain especially unsafe. GPS navigation apps such as Waze are not keeping up with all the road closures and are directing people onto roads that are confirmed closed and flooded, authorities said.

‘We’re just getting prepared for the worst’: Florence pounds flooded Carolinas as death toll rises to 32

I-95 drivers traveling through the state were urged to go around North Carolina to avoid major stretches of flooding on the highway. Other major roads, including state highway 301, were backed up as traffic tried to navigate Lumberton.

Drone footage shot after Florence hit the state showed a massive river on a portion of I-40 in Pender County.

Florence, which made landfall Friday on the North Carolina coast, has prompted widespread emergency warnings across all of North Carolina, and even days later its floodwaters threaten to push rivers to all-time highs. Thirty-two people have been killed by the storm in the Carolinas and Virginia — 25 in North Carolina.

Col. Glenn McNeill of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol said that “travel in affected areas is still extremely dangerous.” In the past 24 hours, he said, troopers responded to 126 collisions and more than 300 calls for help. “We continue to urge motorists to not try to cross flooded roadways.”

After the impact on air travel over the weekend, airlines began to resume service to many of the region’s airports Sunday, including at Charleston and Myrtle Beach in South Carolina and Charlotte in North Carolina. Airlines and airports in the region reported normal to near-normal operations by Monday, but residual delays and cancellations remain.

The storm forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights since Wednesday to airports along the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia.