Hurricane Florence: Mother and baby killed by tree falling on Wilmington house as storm claims first fatalities

Firefighters knelt and prayed after trying, in vain, to save the victims 

Andrew Buncombe
Washington DC
Friday 14 September 2018 15:57 BST
Hurricane Florence: Firefighters gather to pray after mother and baby killed by tree falling in Wilmington, North Carolina

A mother and her infant child were killed when a tree fell on their house in North Carolina – the first of at least four reported fatalities of Hurricane Florence.

Police in the city of Wilmington, located on the coast where the storm blew ashore on Friday morning, confirmed the individuals were killed when a tree fell on the home in Mercer Avenue. Media said emergency crews had been working to save the pair, but their efforts were in vain; a man – the husband and father of the victims – was also hurt and transported to hospital.

As news of the deaths was confirmed, emergency crews from the fire department knelt and prayed outside the house, a moment captured by NBC journalist Lester Holt. “A remarkably touching scene in Wilmington NC as firefighters huddle in prayer for 2 victims in partial house collapse,” he wrote. Some time after that, a third and fourth fatality were reported.

The city’s police force had initially confirmed it was working to free people from a house where a tree had fallen. Reports said the emergency team had with them an specialist in performing amputations, should that have been required.

Shortly afterwards, it posted another tweet that read: “WPD can confirm the first two fatalities of Hurricane #Florence in Wilmington. A mother and infant were killed when a tree fell on their house. The father was transported to New Hanover Regional Medical Centre with injuries.”

Hurricane Florence winds rip American flag to pieces

The city of Wilmington, which has a population of just under 120,000, is a few miles from Wrightsville Beach, where Hurricane Florence came ashore at 7.15am. At that point, according to the National Hurricane Centre (NHC), the storm had winds of a relatively modest 90mph and had been downgraded to a category 1 storm. Yet the centre said it still bore with it the threat of “catastrophic” freshwater flooding.

CNN said that soon after police confirmed the deaths of the mother and her child, a third fatality was reported from Pender County in North Carolina. That victim, a woman, also died Friday morning after emergency responders were unable to get to her due to downed trees and debris in the road, said Chad McEwen, the assistant county manager for Pender County. Mr McEwen said 911 had been called for the woman in cardiac distress in the town of Hampstead.

Officials also reported a fatality in Lenoir County. The office of the state’s governor, Roy Cooper, said the person was killed in Lenoir County while plugging in a generator.

“To those in the storm’s path, if you can hear me, please stay sheltered in place,” Mr Cooper said at a news conference in Raleigh. He said Florence would “continue its violent grind across the state for days”.

Authorities said more than 60 people, including many children and pets, had to be evacuated from a hotel in Jacksonville, North Carolina, after strong winds caused parts of the roof to collapse.

On Friday afternoon, the Associated Press said a weakening Hurricane Florence was almost at a standstill over southeastern North Carolina. At 2 pm, it was centered about 35 miles west-southwest of Wilmington, and about 35 miles (55 kilometers) east-northeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It was crawling west at just five mph.

The National Hurricane Centre said Florence was forecast to keep moving farther inland across the Carolinas through the weekend before turning towards the central Appalachian Mountains early next week. At 5pm, the NHC said Florence had been downgraded to a tropical storm.

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