WILMINGTON, N.C. (CBS News/AP) – The Marines, the Coast Guard, civilian crews and volunteers used helicopters, boats and heavy-duty vehicles Saturday to rescue scores of people trapped by Florence’s shoreline onslaught, even as North Carolina braced for what could be the next stage of the disaster: widespread, catastrophic flooding inland.
The death toll from the hurricane-turned-tropical storm climbed to 12.
A day after blowing ashore with 90 mph winds, Florence practically parked itself over land all day long and poured on the rain. With rivers rising toward record levels, thousands of people were ordered evacuated for fear the next few days could bring the most destructive round of flooding in North Carolina history.
More than 2 feet of rain had fallen in places, and the drenching went on and on, with forecasters saying there could be an additional 1½ feet by the end of the weekend.
“I cannot overstate it: Floodwaters are rising, and if you aren’t watching for them you are risking your life,” Gov. Roy Cooper said.
Three people were killed in Duplin County, North Carolina, due to flash flooding and swift water on roadways, the local sheriff’s office said Saturday afternoon. There are now eight confirmed storm-related deaths. Seven people died in North Carolina and one person was killed in South Carolina.
A mother and baby were killed when a tree fell on a house in Wilmington, North Carolina. In South Carolina, officials said a 61-year-old woman was killed when her vehicle hit a tree that had fallen across a highway.
Florence Fast Facts:
- Tropical Storm Florence is crawling across South Carolina and causing “catastrophic flooding” in North and South Carolina, National Hurricane Center says.
- One town received more than 30 inches of rain; forecasters warned that rains totaling up to 3.5 feet could trigger epic flooding through early next week.
- At 2 p.m. Eastern Saturday, the center of the storm was about 50 miles west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, moving west at 3 mph. Maximum sustained winds are 45 mph.
- Nine people are confirmed dead from storm-related incidents.
- The storm knocked out power to nearly 1 million homes and businesses.
- 904 flights were cancelled within, into or out of the U.S. on Friday; 818 flights were cancelled Saturday and 450 on Sunday, according to FlightAware.
As of 2 p.m. Eastern, Florence was centered about 50 miles west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, inching west at 3 mph — about as fast as a person walks. Its winds were down to 45 mph. With half of the storm still out over the Atlantic, Florence continued to collect warm ocean water and dump it on land.
All coastal storm surge warnings have been discontinued as Tropical Florence slowly plods inland. The National Hurricane Center said water levels along the Carolinas coastline were gradually receding Saturday afternoon, though some minor coastal flooding was possible through Sunday. Florence’s heavy rainfall is forecast to continue, potentially causing catastrophic inland flooding.
The hurricane center says some areas along North Carolina’s coast could see up to 40 inches of total rain by the time Florence passes through early next week. At 5 p.m. Saturday, Florence was barely crawling west at 2 mph, with its center located about 60 miles west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Florence’s top sustained winds were holding at 45 mph. Forecasters say Florence could weaken to a tropical depression late Saturday.
In its initial onslaught along the coast, Florence buckled buildings, deluged entire communities and knocked out power to more than 900,000 homes and businesses. But the storm was shaping up as a two-part disaster, with the second, delayed stage triggered by rainwater working its way into rivers and streams.
The flash flooding could devastate communities and endanger dams, roads and bridge.
Authorities ordered the immediate evacuation of up to 7,500 people living within a mile of a stretch of the Cape Fear River and the Little River. The evacuation zone included part of the city of Fayetteville, population 200,000.
Officials in North Carolina’s Harnett County, about 90 miles inland, urged residents of about 1,100 homes to clear out because the Lower Little River was rising toward record levels.
One potential road out was blocked as flooding forced the shutdown of a 16-mile stretch of Interstate 95, the main highway along the Eastern Seaboard.
Florence could dump a staggering 18 trillion gallons of rain over a week on North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Maryland, meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com calculated. That’s enough to fill the Chesapeake Bay, or cover the entire state of Texas with nearly 4 inches of water.
North Carolina alone is forecast to get 9.6 trillion gallons, enough to cover the Tar Heel state to a depth of about 10 inches.
Wild horses on Outer Banks survive Florence
A herd of wild horses that roams a northern portion of North Carolina’s Outer Banks has survived Florence just fine. The Corolla Wild Horse Fund, a group devoted to protecting and managing the herd of wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs, posted a message on its Facebook page saying the horses were “doing their normal thing — grazing, socializing and wondering what us crazy humans are all worked up over.”
Forecasts earlier in the week that showed Florence potentially making a more direct hit on the northern Outer Banks had many people worried about how the horses would fare. But wildlife experts had said there was no need to worry.
The Cape Hatteras National Seashore tweeted Saturday that all of the ponies in another herd on Ocracoke Island were safe. The Cape Lookout National Seashore said in a Facebook post that it would provide an update on a herd of horses at another location — Shackleford Banks — just as soon as staff could return to do condition assessments.
IRS gives tax penalty relief to Florence victims
The Internal Revenue Service says victims of Florence will get a grace period before having to file some tax returns and payments. The IRS said Saturday it’s offering the relief in parts of North Carolina and other regions designated a disaster area by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Upcoming September deadlines for certain individual and business tax filings and payments will be postponed until Jan. 31 next year. That includes quarterly estimated income tax payments that would have been due next week, and quarterly payroll and excise tax returns normally due Sept. 30.
The IRS says it will automatically provide relief for people with addresses in the counties designated a disaster area. Taxpayers who qualify for relief but live outside the disaster area can call the IRS at 866-562-5227.
“In the blink of an eye our street was flooded”
The riverfront city of New Bern, North Carolina, experienced some of the worst flooding from Tropical Storm Florence, where a massive 10-foot storm surge inundated streets and turned houses into islands.
More than 360 people were rescued from in the city from the rising waters. The city said in a Facebook post early Saturday morning that more than 100 people are still waiting for help. Residents like Teia Cherry and her family decided against evacuating, but then came the water. A storm chaser with a boat rescued her.
“Fast. That’s all I can say, is fast,” Cherry said of how quickly the water came on. “Get somewhere. It’s in a blink of an eye. My cousin looked and he turned around in the blink of an eye our street was flooded. That fast.”
Outer Banks spared the worst of Florence
Many residents who evacuated North Carolina’s Outer Banks ahead of Hurricane Florence are making their way back onto the barrier islands, which were spared from the worst of the storm’s wrath. The residents as well as workers and property owners were being allowed onto the northern portion of the islands beginning Saturday morning. Visitors were expected to be allowed entry to the same area beginning Sunday.
County officials and business owners reported relatively minimal damage, and there were no immediate reports of injuries or deaths.
While the Outer Banks survived Florence fairly unscathed, scientists say they remain incredibly vulnerable to future storms, climate change and sea-level rise.
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