Florence's slow exit means 'catastrophic and historic river flooding will continue for days'

Even as Hurricane Florence became a tropical depression and moves inland, officials say the danger of extreme flooding is high.

Residential streets now look like rivers. Rivers like raging torrents. And parts of freeways -- dotted with rescue boats -- have morphed into free-flowing waterways.

Posted: Sep 17, 2018 11:03 AM

    (CNN) -- Residential streets now look like rivers. Rivers like raging torrents. And parts of freeways -- dotted with rescue boats -- have morphed into free-flowing waterways.

That's the reality in wide swaths of eastern North Carolina in the destructive wake of Hurricane Florence.

What is left of Florence is dragging itself north, dumping heavy rain as it moves into the southern Appalachian Mountains Monday morning.

The storm has already killed at least 18 people, trapped hundreds more and made parts of the Carolinas impassable. But authorities and forecasters say the worst flooding is yet to come.

The remnants of Florence, now a tropical depression, will likely dump another 2 to 5 inches of rain on central and southeastern North Carolina on Monday, CNN meteorologist Michael Guy said.

But even when the rain lets up, don't be fooled. The big concern now is river water gushing downstream, further deluging already flooded communities.

Several North Carolina rivers, including the Neuse, Trent, and Cape Fear, will remain above and near record flood stage through the end of the week, exacerbating fears of more flood damage.

"Catastrophic and historic river flooding will continue for days across portions of the Carolinas," the National Weather Service said.

Houses turn into islands in the Carolinas

The flooding is so bad in North Carolina that the state's transportation department warned people not to travel in or through the state. Some interstates, including sections of I-95 and I-40, are closed.

Emergency workers have made at least 1,000 swift-water rescues in North Carolina by early Monday, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety said. But many more people need help.

Those trapped in floodwater could also be without power for days.

About 532,338 customers in North Carolina and 61,000 in South Carolina don't have electricity. But the number of actual people without power is far greater, since a single customer can represent an entire family.

'We don't run'

In Lumberton, North Carolina -- a city submerged by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 -- residents are bracing for potential disaster as the Lumber River seeps through a patched-up gap in the levee system.

By Sunday afternoon, the river had reached nearly 24 feet and was expected to crest around 25.7 feet. If the river gets higher than 26 feet, "all bets are off," city public works deputy director Corey Walters said.

At one point Sunday afternoon, part of a makeshift barrier meant to plug a low point in the city's main levee system gave way and river water leaked.

One family riding out the storm on the outskirts of Lumberton was content to leave their fate in God's hands. "I just feel comfortable staying. We have our dogs and our property, so we stay," 57-year-old Kenan Chance said.

Their homes are still damaged from Matthew, but they survived, members of the family said. Whether they stay or go, they'll have damage to contend with.

Her father, 84-year-old Rembert Walters, says that if his relatives dispersed to different havens, he'd spend all his time worrying about them.

"We're not going to move until this thing's over. It's going to wipe us out or kill us. Or bury us, or something," he said as floodwater crept upon his porch. "'Cause we don't run every time this thing happened."

Betty Walters says she has health issues that are hard to manage at a shelter. "It's just better for us to stay at home," she said. "I trust in the Lord. He calmed the waters and he's going to look after us."

A number of the shelters also accommodate pets, who are also at risk from rising floodwaters.

Freelance journalist Marcus DiPaola tweeted that he had been involved in the rescue of six dogs in Leland, North Carolina, after they were left locked in an outdoor cage.

"We got them out, but by the time we left, the water was so high that they would have drowned. BRING YOUR PETS WITH YOU! #HurricaneFlorence," he wrote.

Wilmington is basically cut off

The coastal North Carolina city of Wilmington, population 117,000, is so deeply submerged that no one can get in -- not even aid workers carrying fuel and critical supplies.

FEMA crews and power company trucks were turned away Saturday night because of the flooding, Mayor Bill Saffo said.

The Wilmington-based Cape Fear Public Utility Authority urged residents to fill bathtubs and containers with water in case the utility doesn't have enough fuel to keep its water treatment plants running.

Nearby Pender County, north of Wilmington, also is running out of fuel, Commissioner Jackie Newton said. Near the community of Wards Corner in that county, US 421 was a virtual lake, with waters lapping up to homes on either side, video from a CNN crew showed.

The North Carolina attorney general's office has received more than 500 complaints of price gouging -- including for hotel rooms, gas and water. Authorities have launched investigations.

Causes of death include electrocution and fallen trees

The death toll from Florence rose Sunday, with authorities saying 18 deaths have been linked to the storm:

-- A 3-month-old baby died after a tree fell on a mobile home in Dallas, North Carolina.

-- A man died when a his truck hit an overpass support beam on Interstate 20 in Kershaw County, South Carolina.

-- A man drowned in an overturned vehicle on a flooded road in Georgetown County, South Carolina.

-- Three people died in flash flooding or swift water on roads in Duplin County, North Carolina

-- Two people died in a storm-related fire in Cumberland County, North Carolina

-- A mother and a child were killed when a tree fell on their house in Wilmington, North Carolina

-- Two people died from carbon monoxide poisoning in Horry County, South Carolina.

-- A woman in South Carolina died after striking a downed tree while she was driving.

-- A woman suffered cardiac arrest in Hampstead, in North Carolina's Pender County. When emergency responders tried to reach her their path was blocked by fallen trees.

-- Another person died in Pender County, according to the county's emergency management director. No details were immediately available.

-- A man was killed while checking on his dogs in Lenoir County, North Carolina.

-- Another man in Lenoir County was electrocuted while trying to connect two extension cords.

-- An 81-year-old man fell and struck his head while packing to evacuate in Wayne County, North Carolina.

Where Florence's remnants will go next

On Monday morning, Tropical Depression Florence was centered about 125 miles west southwest of Roanoke, Virginia, the National Weather Service said. It was moving north at 13 mph, whipping 30 mph winds.

Mountainous parts of southern Virginia are now at risk for flooding, mudslides and landslides due to Florence's heavy rains on Monday, said Guy, the meteorologist.

The storm is expected to move north through the Charlottesville, Virginia, area before heading toward the Ohio Valley, hitting West Virginia and western Pennsylvania.

By Tuesday, Guy said, "the remnants of Florence will be pushed towards the Northeast where areas from Northern Pennsylvania through central New York towards Boston could pick up some heavy rain."

The-CNN-Wire
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