Florence death toll swells as rivers rise

September 16, 2018
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RALEIGH, N.C. (1010 WINS/AP) -- As the death toll from Florence grew and hundreds of people were rescued from flooded homes, North Carolina braced for catastrophic, widespread river flooding.

Weakened to a tropical depression early Sunday after blowing ashore as a hurricane with 90 mph winds on Friday, Florence was still spinning slowly over the Carolinas, pulling warm water from the ocean and hurling it onshore.

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WINS WEB EXTRAS: 1010 WINS' Ryan Jones and Al Jones are on the ground in North Carolina bringing you the latest on Florence. Follow Ryan on twitter @ryanjones229 for updates | Follow Al @aljoneswins for updates | Listen live | More: Florence Latest

Ryan Jones Reports From The Storm

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The storm’s death toll had climbed to 14 when authorities confirmed two people died from inhaling carbon monoxide from a generator running indoors and a man drowned after his car flipped into flood waters in South Carolina.

According to 1010 WINS’ Al Jones, three people died in separate incidents in Duplin County, North Carolina. Each had their vehicles swept off the roads by flood waters.

Roughly 74,000 homes and businesses were with power in the Carolinas, and utilities said it could last for weeks.

Volunteers from all over the country were heading to the area to assist with cleanup.

1010 WINS’ Ryan Jones was in North Carolina as the flood waters transformed roads into rivers.

Some residents refused to listen to caution and decided to wade through flood waters to determine if their trucks could make it to the other side.

The head of Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, said officials were still focused on finding and rescuing people.

"We'll get through this. It'll be ugly, but we'll get through it," Long told NBC's "Meet The Press."

Rivers swelled toward record levels, forecasters said, and thousands of people were ordered to evacuate for fear that the next few days could bring the most destructive round of flooding in North Carolina history.

While North Carolina took the brunt of the storm, swelling rivers could mean that the flooding could reach South Carolina by Monday.

“It hit the same areas that Matthew hit two years ago, and the water from North Carolina eventually makes its way to South Carolina,” Sen. Lyndsay Graham (R-South Carolina) said on CBS’s “Face The Nation.”

On U.S. Route 401 nearby, rain rose in ditches and around unharvested tobacco crops along the road. Ponds had begun to overflow, and creeks passing under the highway churned with muddy, brown water. Farther along the Cape Fear River, grass and trees lining the banks were partly submerged.

“The people who were flooded out two years ago are going to get flooded out again, and I don’t know how these communities make it, quite frankly,” Graham said.

Fayetteville's city officials, meanwhile, got help from the Nebraska Task Force One search and rescue team to evacuate 140 residents of an assisted-living facility in Fayetteville to a safer location at a church.

Already, more than 2 feet (60 centimeters) of rain has fallen in places, and forecasters are saying there could be an additional 1½ feet (45 centimeters) before Sunday is out.

"Floodwaters are rising, and if you aren't watching for them, you are risking your life," Gov. Roy Cooper said.

Officials were warning residents not only to stay off the roads but also to avoid using GPS systems.

"As conditions change, GPS navigation systems are not keeping up with the road closures and are directing people onto roads that are confirmed closed and/or flooded," the state Transportation Department said on Twitter.

Florence weakened to a tropical depression early Sunday and was crawling west at 8 mph (13 kph). At 5 a.m., the storm was centered about 20 miles (35 kilometers) southwest of Columbia, South Carolina. Its winds were down to 35 mph (55 kph).

In Goldsboro, North Carolina, home of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, roads that frequently flood were already closed Saturday by rushing water. Dozens of electric repair trucks massed to respond to damage expected to hit central North Carolina as rainwater collected into rivers headed to the coast.

On Saturday evening, Duke Energy said heavy rains caused a slope to collapse at a coal ash landfill at a closed power station outside Wilmington, North Carolina. Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said about 2,000 cubic yards (1,530 cubic meters) of ash were displaced at the Sutton Plant and that contaminated storm water likely flowed into the plant's cooling pond.

In New Bern , along the coast, homes were completely surrounded by water, and rescuers used inflatable boats to reach people Saturday.

Kevin Knox and his family were rescued by boat from their flooded brick home with the help of Army Sgt. Johan Mackie, whose team used a phone app to locate people in distress.

"Amazing. They did awesome," said Knox, who was stranded with seven others.

New Bern spokeswoman Colleen Roberts said 455 people were safely rescued in the town of 30,000 residents.

Spirits were high at the Trent Park Elementary School in New Bern, where 44-year-old Cathy Yolanda Wright took shelter after being rescued from her flooded home Saturday. Wright, who sings in the choir at Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist, led residents at the shelter in an energetic singalong.

People clapped and shouted, "Amen!" and "Thank you, Lord."

Across the Trent River from New Bern, Jerry and Jan Andrews returned home after evacuating to find carp flopping in their backyard near the porch stairs.

Coast Guard helicopters took off across the street to rescue stranded people from rooftops and swamped cars.

The Marines rescued about 20 civilians from floodwaters near Camp Lejeune, using Humvees and amphibious assault vehicles, the base reported.