LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Hurricane Florence has weakened to a tropical depression, but flooding is still a big worry as it moves across North Carolina, parts of South Carolina and Virginia. Here's North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper speaking at a media briefing today.
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ROY COOPER: The strongest storm bands are dumping 2 to 3 inches of rain per hour. That's enough to cause flooding in areas that have never flooded before until now.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: More than 900 lives have been saved by first responders, according to the governor, with about 15,000 people or more in about 150 shelters across the state. And there have been at least 14 storm-related deaths. NPR's Brakkton Booker is covering the storm, and he joins us from Greenville, N.C. Hi.
BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Brakkton, forecasters are using the term catastrophic to describe the flooding risk expected today. What are the conditions there on the ground?
BOOKER: It's been wet and soggy, as it has been for days now. Already, Florence has set a record for North Carolina as far as rainfall totals for a single tropical cyclone. And an additional 5 to 10 inches are expected today over much of the state, with an additional storm total accumulations of some 15 to 20 inches. And North Carolina Emergency Management sent out a tweet saying there's a mandatory evacuation 1 mile on either side of the Little River and the Cape Fear River. Now, Lulu, the Cape Fear River is expected to reach 62 feet on Tuesday.
BOOKER: That's about 27 feet above flood stage. And people say when floodwaters start happening, it happens really fast. In the town of New Bern yesterday - there was a ton of flooding there on Friday. I met resident Tabitha Catz, (ph) who told me that she sat for hours sitting at her first-floor window watching waters come in towards her house.
TABITHA CATZ: I can tell you this. It came up so fast it would, honestly, blow your mind - so fast I sat and watched it kind of flood my street, and then kind of come over the curb. And then it kind of made its way into my sidewalk. And then it kind of came up into the grass a little. And within a blink of an eye, it was coming up to my door. It's fast and furious. It does not care. When it comes, it comes.
BOOKER: So, Lulu, we can expect more stories like that in the coming days.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I can imagine. I mean, people must be really scared. What is the risk as this storm moves inland and toward the mountains?
BOOKER: You know, as it moves towards the mountains, the big fear is landslides there. And since I've been on the ground here, officials and people who live here have warned of Florence's double-whammy impact. When it first blew in, we saw storm surge and heavy rains. And as Florence pushed further inland, it would dump even more rain. So that second whammy comes as rivers and streams fill up inland. And the water really gets overrun and has no place to go, so it starts to flow in these low-lying areas, like where I am. And as those waters kind of push back towards the ocean, we start to see some of these flood risks that we're seeing today.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, we heard that you talked to one resident there. But what are you hearing from other people who are trying to cope with all this? You know, North Carolina officials are warning about the dangers of traveling in the state. Are people staying home? What are they doing?
BOOKER: Well, a lot of people are just really tired of being hunkered down. I mean, they've been bracing for Florence before it came ashore. Florence is here, and basically parked itself over North Carolina and northern parts of South Carolina and parts of Virginia. So as the rain keeps coming, people are just kind of getting antsy, really want to start going outside and surveying the damage. And for those who have left and evacuated, they're really anxious to get home to see what kind of impact Florence had on their homes.
So state officials are cautioning people to really stay off the roads. They have - they're telling people to avoid traveling south on I-95. From what I've gathered, this area is really resilient. They were hit with Hurricane Matthew and had massive flooding two years ago, and they promised to rebuild then.
But I've got to tell you, Lulu, some of these places have not recovered from Hurricane Matthew when they saw large flooding back then. So they've really been hit twice in a short period of time. But they vow to me that they're really going to come back and rebuild once Florence passes, too.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Brakkton Booker in Greenville, N.C. Thank you so much, and stay safe.
BOOKER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.