Tropical Storm Florence prompts disaster declaration for North Carolina

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Sunday, September 16, 2018
LIVE: First Alert Doppler Net
LIVE: First Alert Doppler Net

RALEIGH, N.C. (KGO) -- Blowing ashore with howling 90 mph winds, Florence splintered buildings, trapped hundreds of people, and swamped entire communities along the Carolina coast.

Florence was downgraded to a Tropical Storm Friday.

The Latest on Tropical Storm Florence (all times local):

10:55 p.m.

Heavy rains from Tropical Storm Florence are producing flash flooding and major river flooding in the southeastern part of North Carolina.

The National Hurricane Center says excessive amounts of rain are being dumped on the state. It says the effect is expected to be "catastrophic." In its 11 p.m. update Saturday, the center also says an elevated risk of landslides is now expected in western North Carolina as heavy rains spread there.

And the threat is not only limited to the North Carolina and South Carolina. Forecasters say heavy rains are eventually expected early in the week to head into parts of West Virginia and the west-central portion of Virginia - also at a risk of dangerous flash floods and river flooding in those states.

At 11 p.m. Sunday, Florence was about 40 miles (65 kilometers) east-southeast of Columbia, South Carolina. It has top sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kph) and is moving to the west at 3 mph (6 kph).


9 p.m.

Record flooding is expected on North Carolina's Cape Fear River in the coming week, and signs of the coming flood are already apparent.

The Cape Fear River is predicted to crest at 62 feet (nearly 19 meters) in Fayetteville on Tuesday.

Weekend rains have soaked the city and the surrounding area. Officials have warned the river could swell more than a mile (1.6 kilometers) past its banks. The nearby Little River, which feeds into the Cape Fear River, is also set to experience record flooding.

On U.S. Route 401, rain accumulated in ditches and unharvested tobacco crops along the road. Ponds had already started to overflow, and creeks passing under the highway charged with muddy, brown water.

John Rose owns a furniture business with stores less than a mile (1.6 kilometers) away from the Cape Fear River. When he heard about possible flooding, he moved quickly to empty more than 1,000 mattresses from a warehouse located in a low-lying strip mall threatened by the coming surge of water. Rose says that "if the river rises to the level they say it's going to, then this warehouse is going to be under water."


8:10 p.m.

Duke Energy says heavy rains from Florence have caused a slope to collapse at a coal ash landfill at a closed power station outside Wilmington, North Carolina.

Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said Saturday evening that about 2,000 cubic yards (1,530 cubic meters) of ash have been displaced at the Sutton Plant and that contaminated storm water likely flowed into Sutton Lake, the plant's cooling pond. The company hasn't yet determined if the weir that drains the cooling pond was open or whether any contamination may have flowed into the swollen Cape Fear River.

Sheehan says the company had reported the incident to state and federal regulators.

Sutton was retired in 2013 and the company has been excavating ash to remove to safer lined landfills. The gray ash left behind when coal is burned contains toxic heavy metals, including lead and arsenic.

Florence slammed into the North Carolina coast as a large hurricane Friday and has since flooded rivers and left destruction and several people dead.


7:55 p.m.

The core of Tropical Storm Florence is now drifting westward over South Carolina, threatening more flash floods and major river flooding.

The National Hurricane Center said Florence was located around 8 p.m. Saturday about 65 miles (100 kilometers) east-southeast of Columbia, the South Carolina capital. Its top sustained winds have dropped some to 45 mph (75 kph) and Florence is crawling along at 2 mph (4 kph).

Forecasters say that Florence is still a dangerous storm and is expected to dump excessive rainfall on wide areas of North Carolina and South Carolina. They also say the storm could kick up a few tornadoes on its trek across the region.

The large storm came ashore earlier in the week as a hurricane, flooding rivers, forcing high-water rescues and leaving several people dead amid a trail of destruction.


7:25 p.m.

President Donald Trump is tweeting his sympathies and condolences for victims of Florence.

In a tweet Saturday evening, Trump said five deaths had been recorded so far in the storm's wake. Officials had already raised the death toll to 11 by the time of the tweet, which followed a White House briefing.

Trump tweeted: "Deepest sympathies and warmth go out to the families and friends of the victims. May God be with them!"

Florence, which came ashore as a large hurricane earlier in the week, is slowly crawling inland across the Carolinas after dumping heavy rains and causing severe flooding. The flooding threat continues in the region.


6 p.m.

Some of North Carolina's largest public universities are canceling classes a little longer because travel remains uncertain and risky while Florence lingers in the region.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University in Raleigh both announced Saturday that they would resume classes Tuesday. East Carolina University in Greenville -which is closer to the coast- plans to re-open Wednesday.

News releases from all three campuses identified travel challenges for students in making their decisions. These schools cancelled classes for two or three days earlier in the week as Florence approached the coast as a hurricane. Though downgraded to a tropical storm it is still churning across the region, dumping heavy rains and leaving flooding and destruction in its wake.


5:35 p.m.

Authorities say three more people have died in North Carolina as a result of Florence, bringing the overall death toll to 11.

In Raleigh, North Carolina, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has confirmed the storm-related deaths of an 81-year-old man in Wayne County who fell and struck head while packing to evacuate Friday. That agency also is reporting the deaths of a husband and wife in a house fire that same day in Cumberland County that is linked to the storm.

Authorities did not immediately release further details.

Florence, which came ashore as a large hurricane earlier in the week, is slowly crawling inland across the Carolinas after dumping heavy rains and causing severe flooding.


5:25 p.m.

President Donald Trump was briefed by telephone Saturday on Florence's impact on the East Coast.

No details about the content of the president's briefing were released.

The White House issued a photograph showing Trump seated at a desk in the residence holding a telephone receiver to his ear.

Vice President Mike Pence stood nearby.


5:25 p.m.

The top U.S. military commander for national defense says the slow movement of the storm is making it difficult to get more helicopters airborne for rescues in hard-hit areas.

The head of U.S. Northern Command, Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy, tells The Associated Press that Marine MV-22 Osprey aircraft are preparing to launch off Navy ships heading toward the coast, to provide greater awareness of what's going, particularly in North Carolina.

O'Shaughnessy says Northern Command is also using two airborne early warning radar and surveillance aircraft, flying above the storm, to assess bridges, roads and other infrastructure. The aircraft are also able to help relay communications from low-flying helicopters to the FAA if transmissions are affected by storm.

O'Shaughnessy says he expects helicopters and high-water vehicles will be the greatest need.


5:20 p.m.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is warning residents in the southwest part of the state to prepare for flooding and possible landslides early next week from the remnants of Hurricane Florence.

The state so far has been spared from severe hurricane impacts, but the southwest portion of the state is expecting up to 12 inches (30 centimeters) of rain.

Northam said in a news release Saturday that emergency management officials are working to move people and commodities into place to prepare for flooding, including swift water rescue teams. Says Northam: "Now is not the time to let our guard down."

Emergency officials in Virginia have also deployed 25 high-wheeled vehicles and 50 personnel to help with rescue operations in North Carolina.


5:10 p.m.

Transportation officials dealing with worsening roads because of Florence have a message for out-of-state motorists traveling through North Carolina: Please don't use our highways.

State Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon made the plea Saturday, citing the continuing rains and expected flash flooding that has closed parts of 100 major roads.

A 16-mile (25-kilometer) stretch of Interstate 95 is already closed, and Trogdon expects other portions of the road to be shut down near Lumberton as the Lumber River's levels rise there. And a smaller portion of Interstate 40 is shut down.

Trogdon says flash flooding on roads could continue for several days. He says he wants to prevent thousands of people potentially being stranded on the road sides due to sudden flooding.

He adds that North Carolina is working with officials in other states and with federal transportation officials to get the word out to motorists to avoid the Carolinas and find alternate routes through the neighboring states of Virginia, Tennessee, and Georgia.


5:05 p.m.

Officials say high-water rescues have been completed in New Bern, a North Carolina city swamped by flooding from Florence.

The city said in a statement Saturday that 455 people in all were rescued from Florence's floodwaters. Waters began rising there late Thursday as Florence approached as a hurricane.

New Bern spokeswoman Colleen Roberts says there were no significant injuries reported during the rescues, and there have been no fatalities in the city. She says a round-the-clock curfew is in effect until Monday morning, meaning residents shouldn't be out on the streets.

Roberts said around 1,200 people were in local shelters Saturday.

She says thousands of buildings are damaged and calls the destruction "heart-wrenching."


5 p.m.

All coastal storm surge warnings have been discontinued as Tropical Florence slowly plods inland.

The National Hurricane Center says 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 (100 centimeters) 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 (3.2 kph), with its center located about 60 miles (95 kilometers) west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Florence's top sustained winds were holding at 45 mph (75 kph).

Forecasters say Florence could weaken to a tropical depression late Saturday.


4:30 p.m.

A U.S. Department of Transportation official says additional closures that could last up to a week are expected along a major interstate in North Carolina as flooding worsens.

Jim Ray said on a conference call Saturday with other federal officials that within the next 24 hours, the Cape Fear River is expected to overtake Interstate 95 near Fayetteville. Ray also says the Lumber River is expected to overtake I-95 in Robeson County near the South Carolina state line. Ray says that will prompt closures that could last up to a week.

A 16-mile (25-kilometer) stretch of I-95 between its intersection with I-40 - near the town of Dunn - was already closed Saturday. Law enforcement has set up a detour.

Ray says that closure due to a flash flood was expected to last for about a day.


4:15 p.m.

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.


4:10 p.m.

A mandatory evacuation order has been issued in North Carolina's Cumberland County and the towns of Linden and Wade for anyone living within a mile (1.6 kilometers) of the banks of the Cape Fear and Little rivers.

Josh Kicklighter, a 23-year-old truck driver from Nicholas County, West Virginia, who moved to Wade two years ago, sat on his porch with his family Saturday and spoke of how the storm had knocked out his power.

Regarding the evacuation order, Kicklighter says the family would "probably stay" because "I think we're pretty much out of the way of" the mile radius.


3:50 p.m.

The Internal Revenue Service says victims of Hurricane 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.


3:40 p.m.

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.


3:30 p.m.

Authorities in North Carolina are reporting two more weather-related deaths.

The Duplin County Sheriff's Office said on its Facebook page on Saturday that two people died due to "flash flooding and swift water on roadways."

The Associated Press was unable to get details because the sheriff's office phone line was not working.

The deaths bring the death toll from Florence, which came ashore on Friday as a hurricane, to at least seven. All but one of those deaths occurred in North Carolina. One victim died in South Carolina.


2:50 p.m.

Hurricane Florence evacuees from the Carolinas are getting free tickets to watch the University of Florida's football team play Colorado State.

The ticket office and athletic association at the University of Florida extended the invitation to evacuees for Saturday's game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.

Gator officials say evacuees had to present a valid ID showing they're from North Carolina or South Carolina.


2:05 p.m.

Though weakened, Florence remains a very large, slow and dangerous storm as it swirls over the Carolinas.

The National Hurricane Center said Florence's top sustained winds were holding at 45 mph (75 kph), with higher gusts east of the storm's center.

At 2 p.m. Saturday, Florence was inching west at 3 mph (6 kph), with its center located about 50 miles (85 kilometers) west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Forecasters say prolonged rainfall from Florence could produce catastrophic flash flooding and significant river flooding.

Tropical storm-force winds stretched up to 150 miles (240 kilometers) from the storm's center.


1:15 p.m.

A mandatory evacuation order has been put in place for anyone who lives within a mile of the banks of North Carolina's Cape Fear River and Little River.

Officials from Cumberland County, Fayetteville and the town of Wade issued the order early Saturday afternoon, saying residents there face "imminent danger" from flood waters expected to arrive in the area soon.

Residents are being asked to leave immediately. Officials said flood waters from other areas are accumulating north of the county and filling the river basins beyond their capacities. They asked that the evacuation begin immediately and that everyone within the evacuation areas get out by 3 p.m. Sunday.

Seven emergency shelters are open in the county.


1:50 p.m.

Officials in South Carolina are reporting the state's first fatality due to Florence, bringing the storm's overall death toll to at least five.

A 61-year-old woman was killed late Friday when the vehicle she was driving struck a tree that had fallen across Highway 18 near the town of Union.

Capt. Kelley Hughes of the South Carolina Highway Patrol said the woman, who was wearing a seat belt, died at the scene. No passengers were in the vehicle at the time of the crash.

The tree was about 6 feet above the road surface. Hughes said the vehicle's roof is what struck the tree.

Four weather-related deaths have been reported in North Carolina.


12:35 p.m.

Portions of eastern North Carolina's two interstates are closed because of flooding caused by Tropical Storm Florence's torrential rains and may not re-open before Monday.

The state Department of Transportation says a 16-mile (26-kilometer) stretch of Interstate 95 between its intersection with I-40 and near the town of Dunn is closed. Law enforcement has set up a detour.

Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon said Saturday that authorities were still assembling an alternate route for a 5-mile section of I-40 that is closed in both directions near the town of Warsaw, about 70 miles (115 kilometers) southeast of Raleigh.

The state DOT said on its website that the two roads are expected to re-open by Monday morning.

Trogdon says road conditions are expected to get worse in the immediate future, pointing out the number of closed primary roads in eastern counties had doubled compared to Friday. He urged motorists not to travel east of I-95 or south of U.S. Highway 70.


11:45 a.m.

The Navy says almost 30 Virginia-based ships and 128 aircraft sent away from their bases in the Hampton Roads-area because of now-Tropical Storm Florence have been given the go-ahead to return.

The Navy says the aircraft will make their way back beginning Saturday, and the ships will start to return Sunday.

A Navy statement says the decision comes after inspections of the region's port and airfield.


11:30 a.m.

Evacuation orders have been lifted in several coastal South Carolina counties as Florence continues to dump rain on the state.

Gov. Henry McMaster issued an executive order lifting evacuation orders for Charleston, Berkeley, Dorchester and the Edisto Beach area of Colleton County effective at noon Saturday.

McMaster had ordered residents in most of the state's coastal counties to evacuate ahead of Florence's arrival. The slow-moving storm is still dumping colossal amounts of rain on North Carolina and parts of northern South Carolina.

Evacuation orders remain in place for Horry and Georgetown counties along South Carolina's northern coast.


11 a.m.

Tropical Storm Florence continues to weaken as it dumps dangerous amounts of rain across the Carolinas.

The National Hurricane Center said Florence's top sustained winds have weakened to 45 mph (75 kph).

At 11 a.m. Saturday, Florence was moving west at 2 mph (4 kph), with its center located about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

The storm's extremely slow speed means the risk of catastrophic flooding remains high across both states. Some areas are forecast to receive up to 15 inches more rain, and storm totals could reach over 3 feet in some areas for the week.

National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham says areas like New Bern, North Carolina, could also see additional storm surge as high tide combines with the ocean waters still being pushed ashore by Florence's outer bands.


9 a.m.

North Carolina's Harnett County has declared a mandatory evacuation along a river that's expected to rise to more than 17 feet above flood stage.

On its Facebook page, the county said the evacuation was in effect along the Lower Little River near the Cumberland County line.

The National Weather Service is forecasting the river to crest at Manchester at 35.4 feet at about 8 a.m. Monday. Flood stage is 18 feet.

The previous record crest was 29 feet set during Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

The river is forecast to reach flood stage sometime after 2 a.m. Sunday.


8:25 a.m.

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

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 Hurricane Florence.

Money also is available to the state, some local governments, and some private nonprofit groups on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work in those counties.


8 a.m.

Tropical Storm Florence is continuing to dump dangerous amounts of rain as it continues its slow slog across the Carolinas.

The National Hurricane Center said Florence is moving west at 2 mph (3.2 kph), with its center located about 35 miles (56 kilometers) west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Maximum sustained winds remained at 50 mph (80 kph).

The region is being pounded with rain from the slow-moving storm, causing the risk of catastrophic flooding. Southern and central portions of North Carolina into far northeast

Parts of North and South Carolina can expect an additional 10 to 15 inches. Storm totals could reach between 30 and 40 inches in some areas.

At 8 a.m. EDT, the Miami-based hurricane center said rainfall will continue to produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding.


5 a.m.

Tropical Storm Florence keeps drenching the central Carolinas, with an additional 10 to 15 inches of rain expected before it finally swings north over the Appalachian Mountains and into the Ohio Valley on Monday.

The National Hurricane Center says top sustained winds have dropped to near 50 mph (80 kph) with higher gusts, and Florence is expected to become a tropical depression later Saturday.

At 5 a.m., the center was all but parked over South Carolina, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) west of Myrtle Beach, moving west-southwest at just 5 mph (8 kph) and scooping massive amounts of moisture from the sea.


1:30 a.m.

Tropical Storm Florence is practically stalled over the Carolinas and the monster storm could dump drenching rains of up to 3 feet (1 meter). That, in turn, could trigger epic flooding well inland.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper calls Florence the "uninvited brute" that could wipe out entire communities. The storm is some 400 miles (645 kilometers) wide. Power outages are widespread including over 740,000 in North Carolina and 163,000 in South Carolina. Rescue crews have used boats to reach hundreds besieged by the rising waters.

Early Saturday morning Florence's winds weakened to 65 mph (100 kph) as it moved forward at 5 mph (7 kph) and was about 15 miles (25 kilometers) west northwest of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.