The scene would make quite a bucolic backdrop for a pastoral painting. The trees were still and verdant, and the late-summer sun glinted off a river of water that flowed into the horizon.
Except it was not a river. Nor was it a stream or a canal — at least, not before the storm.
This was the case Monday with a portion of Interstate 40, one of the country’s longest highways, which stretches from California to North Carolina, where, in Pender County, it was completely submerged.
A drone from the North Carolina Department of Transportation captured footage of the stunning spectacle, using the images to underscore a dire warning to the state’s residents: Stay away.
There have been at least 35 water rescues in Pender County, according to local news reports.
“This isn’t a river … this is Interstate 40,” the Transportation Department tweeted Monday evening. “ … This illustrates our message that travel in this area is impassable and unsafe.”
Earlier Monday, James H. Trogdon III, head of the Transportation Department, posted a photograph of the same stretch of highway, with what appeared to be two people aboard a skiff, surveying the storm damage while boating above what would have been a lane of oncoming traffic just days before.
One Twitter user observed that it looked “like a good fishin day on Interstate 40.”
But it certainly wasn’t a good — or safe — day for driving. In a statement, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) stressed this point.
“For many parts of North Carolina, the danger is still immediate,” Cooper said. “Floodwaters are rising as rivers crest and will for days. I urge if you, if you don’t have to drive, stay off the road.”
As of Monday evening, some 1,200 roads were still closed across North Carolina, the Transportation Department reported. Parts of Interstates 40 and 95 were among them, along with other key routes in the state, overwhelmed by flooding or clogged with debris.
The death toll, which rose Monday to 32, is expected to increase as residents face Florence’s dangerous aftermath. A preliminary estimate of the storm’s monetary cost puts the damage at $22 billion. That, too, could very well rise, said Moody’s Analytics.
Other overhead footage taken after the storm moved through the Southeast showed entire towns — like Lumberton and New Bern, N.C. — flooded. Homes, playgrounds and gas station signs poked out of the water, leaving no doubt about what used to be, and what still is, beneath.