A city-by-city look at Florence’s rain and flooding
Hurricane Florence has come and gone through North and South Carolina, but its heavy rains and storm surge have caused significant flooding in cities and towns across the region.
The issue is so severe that North Carolina Department of Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon warned out-of-staters to avoid driving through North Carolina. The state is closed for business.
Here’s a look at five of the areas facing significant problems with flooding, storm damage and rising rivers in Florence’s wake.
Hurricane Florence made landfall at Wilmington, North Carolina, making it the epicenter of the destruction. Rainfall totals of 26.58 inches have caused high waters all around the city, effectively cutting it off from the rest of North Carolina.
“Any direction you try coming into the city, from 20 to 40 miles out, roads are impassable,” Mayor Bill Saffo said. “Anyone trying to get in here — don’t try. You will be turned away. Highway Patrol won’t let you.”
Those high waters have kept even Federal Emergency Management Agency crews and Duke Energy trucks away. The US Coast Guard has made dozens of water rescues in the area, and one helicopter alone south of Wilmington saved 26 adults and 11 children, as well as seven dogs and four cats.
Wilmington was also the site of the first deaths of the hurricane. High winds knocked over a tree that fell on a home, killing a 41-year-old woman and her 7-month-old son.
2018 is already the wettest year in the city’s 140 years of record-keeping, even with 3½ months left. It has seen more than 86 inches of rain this year; the average to date is about 43 inches.
The Lumber River cuts through the city of Lumberton in North Carolina, which has received 22.76 inches of rain since Thursday.
As all of the rain in the area entered the river system, the Lumber River reached a startling high of 25 feet on Sunday — about 12 feet about flood stage. The river is expected to slowly lower over the coming days, though it remains in major flood stage.
The river similarly inundated Lumberton with floodwaters in 2016 during Hurricane Matthew because of a gap in the surrounding levee, which allowed water to flood the southwest part of the city. Residents worked to secure the area, filling the gap with sandbags.
The makeshift barrier failed Sunday but was still slowing the water, said Corey Walters, deputy director of public works.
“The waters are not rising anywhere near as fast, at least around the water plant, as they did during Matthew,” Walters said.
Still, major parts of Lumberton are flooded. Brian Lindsay shot a drone video on Monday of a flooded 3-mile section of I-95.
The South Carolina resort town was relatively unscathed by the winds and 15.41 inches of rain from Florence.
However, flooding that is expected along the rivers surrounding the city is likely to have a “truly devastating impact” on Myrtle Beach’s economy, Mayor Brenda Bethune said Friday.
“What we are the most concerned about is, we have five major rivers that surround us, and we only have one major road into Myrtle Beach, but all of our major roads are going to be affected by this flooding within the next three to seven days,” she said.
“And when that flooding gets here, it can last up to 10 to 12 days or longer, from what we are being told.”
Bethune said Sunday that the rivers were expected to crest in two days, with significant flooding.
Fayetteville sits along the banks of the Cape Fear River, which is up to 53.95 feet at that location, according to the National Weather Service. The river is still expected to rise over the next day and crest at 61.8 feet.
Gov. Roy Cooper accompanied the Coast Guard on a flyover of flooded areas in North Carolina and saw boats washed up in town and significant debris.
Flying over Fayetteville, he said, “it was stark to see the raging Cape Fear River, and you knew it was rising, and you could see these vulnerable communities.”
Brad Zerivitz shot a drone video of downtown Fayetteville for the American Red Cross that illustrates the extent of the flooding.
Over 4,300 homes in New Bern, North Carolina, were damaged or destroyed, and over 300 businesses suffered the same fate, according to City Manager Mark Stephens.
“Our city has suffered one of the worst storms ever in its 308-year history,” Stephens said Monday.
New Bern sits along the Neuse River, which combined with heavy rain to create flooding. Although there were no known fatalities from Florence, emergency personnel rescued 800 people from flooded homes during the storm, Stephens said.
The wind, rain and flooding also dislodged the city’s beloved bear statues. They are usually bolted to the ground, but the statues’ thick pedestals were uprooted and washed away, the city said.
The Neuse River near Goldsboro, about 60 miles from New Bern, has already reached 25.62 feet and is still rising. The river, well into the major flood stage, is forecast to crest at 26.1 feet on Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.