Hurricane Florence: Warning of massive flooding leaves storm evacuees in limbo

The death toll has reached at least eight

Clark Mindock
Fayetteville, North Carolina
Saturday 15 September 2018 18:18 BST
Hurricane Florence: Reporter pummeled by extreme winds

With unprecedented flooding expected in parts of North Carolina and other regions of the US east coast in the wake of Hurricane Florence – and a disaster declaration from President Donald Trump already in effect – thousands of evacuees spread across the state are stuck in a holding pattern.

As the unrelenting rain pushes streams and rivers to capacity, many of those who heeded warnings from officials and moved to safety are stuck waiting at emergency shelters with little idea of how soon they can head home. Or, if they will have a home to return to at all.

The storm has knocked out power in nearly 900,000 homes and businesses and caused at least eight deaths.

“This is the first time I have ever been to the shelter. Usually I ride the storm out, but, where I live, it’s so close to Cape Fear River it was starting to get pretty bad. I had no choice but to come,” Eric Bradly, a construction worker who lives in Spring Lake, said.

Mr Bradley said he decided to evacuate to the Pine Forest High School emergency shelter in Fayetteville after officials came to his door on Thursday and warned that circumstances could get bad real fast if he chose to stay. With the memories of Hurricane Matthew – which flooded areas near where he lives – he said he acted quickly, and left immediately.

“I don’t know if my house is still standing, if my truck’s still afloat,” he said when asked when he plans on going home. “And, from what they say now – it may be an extra couple of days.”

Florence made landfall in North Carolina on Friday morning as a category 1 hurricane, after being downgraded from its previous strength as a category 4 storm earlier in the week. Over the next several hours, the weather pattern battered the east coast of the United States, bringing torrential rains to the areas of impact including North and South Carolina.

Hurricane Florence: Firefighters gather to pray after mother and baby killed by tree falling in Wilmington, North Carolina

Officials have warned repeatedly that the storm was not one that people wanted to take lightly, and continued to warn of the deadly nature of Florence even as it was downgraded to a tropical storm as it made its way further inland. The rains, the officials said, could lead to mudslides and deadly flooding. The hurricane force winds may have left, but the risk to life is still very real, they said.

“I can not overstate it: flood waters are rising,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said on Saturday during a storm update. “If you aren’t watching for them, you are risking your life.”

Officials up and down the east coast had declared states of emergency in anticipation of the storm, with the governors of Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland issuing those declarations. Washington DC, also declared a state of emergency.

The storm prompted officials to announce evacuation orders for nearly 2 million people in the areas directly in the path of Florence, which curled southward near the shores of North Carolina before smashing inland near Wilmington, North Carolina, and heading towards South Carolina and western North Carolina.

Briana Reece said that she evacuated from her home in Linden, North Carolina, after the water lines to her home stopped working. She said that she and her fiancé spent hours calling shelters before finding one in Fayetteville, which sent a school bus to pick the two of them up.

Ms Reece has never evacuated her home for a storm in the past, even though she has lived in North Carolina for her entire life – 27 years. Something about this storm – or perhaps the fact that she and her fiancé are expecting their first born child – convinced her that she needed to get out.

“This is the first time that I’ve ever gone to a shelter during a hurricane or any type of storm. This one, like I said, the water is different,” Ms Reece said. “We don’t know how long this is going to last so we decided to call for help.”

There has been a massive response to help get people like Ms Reece back into their homes, and to limit the number of fatalities that result from Florence.

Thousands of National Guard troops have been deployed to help in the effort, alongside a huge response from North Carolina’s utility company, Duke Energy, which had prepared an unprecedented effort to get North Carolina’s power grid back on track.

Kristin Albertson said that she very well could have been one of those people in need of an emergency rescue if she had decided to stay in her trailer in Cedar Point, North Carolina.

Ms Albertson chose to leave as Florence approached earlier this week, and as she saw intensifying winds and squalls that she had not seen in past storms that rolled through. So, she quickly packed her car with everything she could – her husband, daughter, two dogs, and two cats included – and drove to Fayetteville for shelter.

Since then, Ms Albertson has been receiving updates from her friends back home who decided stay put. She has heard whispers of sightings of dead bodies. She has seen videos and photos of flood waters engulfing her home town that she evacuated with five dollars in her pocket and a full tank of petrol to her name.

“I have been through every hurricane in eastern North Carolina and I have been through every one,” Ms Albertson said. “This is the first one I have run from.”

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