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Florence Has Claimed the Lives of 32 People and Deaths Continue to Rise
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Florence Has Claimed the Lives of 32 People and Deaths Continue to Rise

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WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA — September 18, 2018

While the bulk of the hurricane has left the Carolinas, the death toll keeps rising because of the rains, floods, and tornadoes.

Now a post-tropical cyclone, Florence has killed 32 people, trapped hundreds more and cut off an entire city, officials said. Residential streets have turned into rivers, and freeways have morphed into waterways dotted with rescue boats.

We've already reported about the first victims of the death hurricane, including two elderly people, a young mother with a child, several other people from North Carolina and Virginia.

Of others deaths linked to Florence, 25 were in North Carolina, six were in South Carolina and one was in Virginia. Among them:

  • One-year-old Kaiden Lee-Welch was swept away by rushing waters Sunday and later found dead in Union County, North Carolina
  • Also in Union County, the body of an elderly man was found by his submerged car
  • A 3-month-old who died when a tree fell on a mobile home in Dallas, North Carolina
  • A man who died when his truck hit an overpass support beam on Interstate 20 in Kershaw County.

And reports in North Carolina of two hog-farm lagoons being breached and more being inundated by flood waters are causing health concerns.

"This is a monumental disaster for our state," North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday. "This is an epic storm that is still continuing because the rivers are still rising."

Florence will probably dump another 2 to 5 inches of rain on central and southeastern North Carolina, CNN meteorologist Michael Guy said. But even when the rain lets up, water gushing downstream is expected to cause "catastrophic and historic river flooding" for days across portions of the Carolinas, the National Weather Service said.

In addition to floods, meteorologists predict several tornadoes simultaneously in two States. Several these were confirmed Monday by storm spotters. One of those tornadoes hit Chesterfield County south of Richmond, causing a building collapse that killed one person.

In North Carolina, residents are slowly being allowed back to their homes in some areas. On Tuesday morning, residents of Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina — where Florence made landfall — will be allowed back on the island, and Craven County's mandatory evacuation will be lifted. But officials warned that homes and roads may still not be accessible and people attempting to return should use extreme caution.

Some interstates highways, including sections of I-95 and I-40, are impassible and remained closed. A dam burst Monday night in Lilesville in south-central North Carolina, causing evacuations.

Meanwhile, about 488,551 residents in North Carolina and 16,385 in South Carolina still don't have electricity. But the number of actual people without power is far greater since a single customer can represent an entire family.

Emergency workers made at least 1,000 swift-water rescues in North Carolina by Monday, but still, many more people need help. And those trapped in floodwater could also be without power for days.

The especially difficult situation is in Wilmington where city so deeply submerged that no one could get on Sunday. State authorities eventually were able to open one road into the city of 117,000. But it's not for residents to use to return.

"We do not want evacuees to go back. There's too much going on," Cooper said.

The state's Department of Transportation said it's not clear how long that road will stay open, so authorities are trying to rush in supplies. And supplies of fuel, water and food are in critical need. The Wilmington-based Cape Fear Public Utility Authority urged residents to fill bathtubs and containers with water in case it doesn't have enough fuel to keep its water treatment plants running.

Pender County, just north of Wilmington, is also running out of fuel, Commissioner Jackie Newton said.

Wilmington evacuee James Ammons can't get a break.

He just moved to Wilmington a few weeks ago and already lost his car in the storm, he said.

"The reason why I lost my car is that there was a girl who hadn't had food, and I wanted to get her some food," Ammons said.

He tried to find safety at an emergency shelter, but it got flooded out. So he went to another emergency shelter — but that, too, got deluged.

"I've been to three shelters so far," Ammons said.

He said the stress is running high for evacuees who aren't sure how badly their homes are damaged. But he said perspective is important.

"You have to be grateful for what you have right now."

As for the others sides, the difficulty is also in Lumberton, North Carolina where a city was almost submerged by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 — residents were bracing for disaster as the Lumber River seeps through a patched-up gap in the levee system.

Now the river is expected to crest around 25.7 feet. If it gets higher than 26 feet, "all bets are off," city public works Deputy Director Corey Walters said.

Already, the floodwater in Lumberton has engulfed Bill Kozak's home.

"I'm 59 and it got to the top of my chest in a lot of areas," Kozak said. "I can hardly survive."

He said he's frustrated after dealing with two hurricane-induced floods in two years.

"It feels like there hasn't been much done to prevent this from happening," he added.

Once he's done repairing flood damage from Florence, Kozak said, he and his family are moving out of Lumberton.

According to the latest National Weather Service data, on Monday afternoon, Florence was centered about 85 miles west-southwest of Morgantown, West Virginia. It was moving north at 13 mph, whipping up 25-mph winds. Mountainous parts of southern Virginia are now at risk of flooding, mudslides, and landslides due to Florence's heavy rains on Monday.

The storm is expected to move north through the Charlottesville, Virginia, area before heading toward the Ohio Valley, hitting West Virginia and western Pennsylvania.

By Tuesday, "the remnants of Florence will be pushed towards the Northeast, where areas from northern Pennsylvania through central New York towards Boston could pick up some heavy rain."

Authorities are still urging people not to return to their homes and those who cannot leave, to stay and constantly contact the rescue services to report impending storms or tornadoes.

"We've already lost too many people," said a North Carolina official. "There is no more to lose. Now we are ready for any natural challenges to save and protect people from serious danger."

Author: USA Really