'Uninvited brute': Florence leaves 7 dead; threatens Carolinas with 15 more inches of rain

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A neighbor who lived on the same block as a woman and infant who were killed by a falling tree, talks about what he saw and heard as Hurricane Florence pounded Wilmington, North Carolina. (Sept. 14)
AP

A weakened Florence slowed to a crawl over South Carolina Saturday, but is expected to pummel the area with powerful winds, storm surges and as much as 15 more inches of rain into the weekend before sliding inward and heading toward the Ohio Valley.

Since marching ashore Friday near Wilmington, North Carolina, as a hurricane, Florence has claimed at least seven lives, caused widespread flooding and knocked out power to nearly 900,000 homes in the Carolinas, according to poweroutage.us.

Now, as a tropical storm, Florence is expected to dump an additional 10 to 15 inches of rain in parts of North and South Carolina, with storm totals reaching 30 to 40 inches along the North Carolina coastal area south of Cape Hatteras.

At 8 a.m. EST Saturday, the center of the storm was about 35 miles west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with maximum sustained winds at 50 mph. It was moving at a paltry 2 mph.

The National Hurricane Center warned that Florence will continue to produce “catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding.”

North Carolina’s Harnett County declared a mandatory evacuation on Saturday along the Lower Little River, which is expected to rise to more than 17 feet above flood stage.

The National Weather Service forecasts the river to reach flood stage at Manchester after 2 a.m. EDT Sunday and crest Monday morning at 35.4 feet. Flood stage is 18 feet.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper called Florence an “uninvited brute” that could wipe out entire communities as it grinds its way across land.

In Washington, President Donald Trump issued a disaster declaration for North Carolina Saturday that will make federal money available to people in the counties of Beaufort, Brunswick, Carteret, Craven, New Hanover, Onslow, Pamlico and Pender, the White House said.

Government aid can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the hurricane.

About 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians have been deployed, with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats.

“The fact is this storm is deadly and we know we are days away from an ending,” Cooper said.

At least seven hurricane-related fatalities were reported since Florence slammed ashore early Friday. A mother and infant died after a tree fell on a house in Wilmington, North Carolina, according to local police. In Hampstead, downed trees prevented emergency crews from reaching a woman who suffered a heart attack. 

A fourth person was killed while plugging in a generator and a fifth when he was blown down trying to check on his hunting dogs in Lenoir County, north of Wilmington, according to local authorities. 

Officials in North Carolina’s Carteret County said Saturday morning that two people died early Friday on Harkers Island, but did not provide further details, according to local media reports.

In New Bern, where the Neuse and Trent rivers intersect, around 200 people were rescued after being stranded in their homes, according to Mayor Dana Outlaw. Another 150, including some trapped in second floors of houses or in attics, awaited rescue.

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“What happens is that we rescue some people and then we find out there are still more who need it,” Outlaw said. “People who live in New Bern have experienced hurricanes before, but it has been a long time since we have experienced something like this.”

The mayor said at least 4,200 homes and 300 businesses sustained damage from flooding.

Tracker: See Florence’s projected path

More: Two people, 100+ animals escape flooded North Carolina animal shelter

“Things here are very, very serious,” he said. “If you’ve ever doubted the destructiveness of a hurricane, what’s happening here will make you a believer.”

More than 60 people, including an infant, children and their pets, were rescued from a collapsing hotel in Jacksonville, North Carolina, at the height of the storm, according to WITN-TV.

In Newport, North Carolina, rescuers were able to reach a flooded animal shelter after the Carteret County Humane Society put out a call for help on Facebook. The Cajun Navy, a group of volunteers in boats, brought two stranded shelter workers, 43 dogs, 80 cats and roughly 15 chickens to safety.

In Wilmington’s riverfront area, near where Florence made landfall on Friday, the Cape Fear River poured over its banks, flooding most of the parking lots, docks and roadways leading to Wrightsville Beach.

Trees fell on downtown streets, which also displayed broken storefront windows and damaged street signs.

In a historic neighborhood just outside of downtown, mature oaks and other large trees had fallen onto gardens, gates, roofs and parked cars.

Contributing: Daniel J. Gross, The Greenville News; The Associated Press 

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