WILMINGTON/FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – Rising flood waters threatened communities across the Carolinas on Tuesday as storm Florence menaced the U.S. Northeast with heavy rains and tornadoes after killing at least 32 people.
Widespread flooding has already reached roofs, turned highways into rivers and left thousands to be saved by rescue workers. Waterways continued to rise on Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.
“Flooding is still going to be a concern into the weekend and into next week,” said Hal Austin, a National Weather Service meteorologist, noting there is a chance of rain for the region on Tuesday and Wednesday. “No more water, not even a drop, please.”
At least 32 people have been killed by Florence, including 25 in North Carolina and six in South Carolina. One person was killed when at least 16 tornadoes developed from Florence on Monday in Virginia where dozens of building were destroyed, the National Weather Service (NWS) reported.
The dead included a 1-year-old boy swept from his mother as they tried to escape their car amid floodwaters. The woman had driven around barricades to reach a closed road, the sheriff’s office in Union County, near North Carolina’s border with South Carolina, said on Facebook.
Forecasters warned heavy rains could cause flash flooding in the U.S. Northeast on Tuesday. As much as 6 inches (15 cm) of rain was possible in parts of the region, the NWS said.
Thousands of rescues have taken place in the two states and over 650 people were taken to safety in and around Wilmington, North Carolina, said Barbi Baker, a spokeswoman for New Hanover County. The city took a direct hit when Florence plowed into the state as a hurricane on Friday and has been largely cut off since then due to storm surges and flooding from the Cape Fear River.
With 1,500 roads closed across North Carolina, fire and rescue crews were waiting to go into many areas to assist with structural damage after Florence dumped up to 36 inches (91 cm) of rain on the state since Thursday.
“Road conditions are still changing,” the North Carolina Department of Transportation said on Twitter on Tuesday. “What’s open now may become impassable.”
More than 340,000 customers were without power on Tuesday morning, according to power companies, down from a peak of nearly 1 million outages.
North Carolina had deployed around 2,000 boats and 36 helicopters to help people stranded in floods, the state’s director of emergency management, has said.
The Coast Guard said it had 26 helicopters and 11 aircraft looking for people in trouble.
Property damage from the storm is expected to total at least $17 billion to $22 billion, but that forecast could be conservative depending on further flooding, risk management firm Moody’s Analytics said.
A power outage at a wastewater treatment plant in Wilmington resulted in partially treated sewage water being released into the Cape Fear River, said Reggie Cheatham, director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Emergency Management.
Sewage releases in the Neuse River were reported as well as overflows at several hog “lagoons”, used to store waste from pig farms.
(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Miami; Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee: Jessica Resnick-Ault and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Anna Mehler Paperny in North Carolina; and Rich McKay in Atlanta Writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Janet Lawrence)