Florence Update From Wilmington

Sep 16, 2018
Originally published on September 16, 2018 10:00 am
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

In North Carolina, some areas have already seen a record 30 inches of rain from Florence - now a tropical depression - and the rain keeps falling. Two days after making landfall near Wilmington as a hurricane, Florence has been in no hurry to leave the area, though it's slowly moving west today. The storm's responsible for at least 12 deaths. From Wilmington, N.C., NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Governor Roy Cooper says if they don't have to go out, North Carolinians in the areas affected by Florence should stay in their homes and off the roads.

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ROY COOPER: Powerful torrents of water are flooding homes, wiping out roads and sweeping away cars in North Carolina.

ALLEN: As waves of rain keep falling, the National Weather Service keeps renewing the flash flood warnings for inland and coastal areas. A major concern now is road closures. Primary roads in areas around Wilmington, New Bern and other cities have been closed because of high water. Even more serious are the interstates. Sections of both Interstate 40 and I-95 have been closed because of flash flooding. North Carolina's secretary of transportation, Jim Trogdon, says it's even worse than what the state saw two years ago in Hurricane Matthew.

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JIM TROGDON: I have never seen flash flooding like this occur in our state. And it's tremendously impacting our ability to help move - travel on our interstates and U.S. routes.

ALLEN: Trogdon says so many roads are affected in some areas that it's been difficult to identify alternate routes for motorists. He's taken the unusual step of asking visitors from out of state to not use I-95 for the time being. Trogdon says travelers should detour around North Carolina on routes taking them through West Virginia and Georgia.

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TROGDON: And the one thing I want to prevent is thousands of people stranded on our interstates or U.S. routes with flooding events on each side, putting more burden on our first responders to be extracting thousands of people that use our roadways daily.

ALLEN: Eventually, as Florence moves on, the rains will stop. But flooding may get worse as rivers begin to crest and flow out of their banks. In Castle Hayne, a low-lying community near Wilmington, some homes have already been flooded by the rain. Juan Diaz's house is surrounded by water. But so far, his has stayed dry inside. But he's worried about the Cape Fear River a few miles away.

JUAN DIAZ: We don't have no power. You know, we watch the phones, trying to get some news, see, you know, what the river is doing. But we don't have no clue. So...

ALLEN: But this is not from the river, this is from...

DIAZ: No.

ALLEN: ...Rain.

DIAZ: Yes, from rain. It's from rain. It's a low lot, so that's pretty much the rain, yeah.

ALLEN: In the Wilmington area - New Hanover County - officials are anxious to begin recovery efforts but have been hampered by Florence's reluctance to leave the area. Officials say a thousand trucks and energy company crews are standing by but haven't begun restoring power yet because of high winds. For now, County Commission Chairman Woody White is asking the hundreds of people still in county-run shelters to stay there.

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WOODY WHITE: We survived this. We have a long way to go. We are probably in the middle of it right now. It's going to get worse. But we're going to be OK.

ALLEN: In Wilmington, a curfew was continued last night and extended in one neighborhood where looting was reported. If there's any good news from the storm, it may be in Wrightsville Beach, the place where Florence made landfall Friday as a Category 1 hurricane. Wrightsville Beach Mayor Bill Blair said there's little structural damage, and there were a few big trees on the island to come down. The biggest impact, he says, was from Florence's storm surge.

BILL BLAIR: Very quickly, we had 5-, 6-feet surge come up, covered a good proportion of the island. But it also receded pretty quick, which was even more strange. I mean, it came up, two hours and it was gone.

ALLEN: Blair is most concerned about 750,000 cubic yards of sand that was recently used to replenish the beaches there. After Florence, he says, it's all gone. Greg Allen, NPR News, Wilmington, N.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.