Florence gone but its flooding a crisis in parts of North Carolina

Hurricane Florence starts lashing North Carolina Coast, Photo Date: 9/13/2018 / Photo: PBS /...
Hurricane Florence starts lashing North Carolina Coast, Photo Date: 9/13/2018 / Photo: PBS / YouTube / (MGN)
Published: Sep. 15, 2018 at 7:05 AM MDT
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Wastewater flows into river tributary in North Carolina

Heavy rainfall from the remnants of Hurricane Florence sent tens of thousands of gallons of untreated wastewater into a tributary of North Carolina's Cape Fear River basin over the weekend.

The City of Greensboro said in a statement Tuesday that about 63,000 gallons of untreated wastewater flowed from a sanitary sewer main for about four hours on Sunday. Officials blame infiltration from heavy rainfall accumulated from Florence.

The untreated wastewater entered North Buffalo, a tributary of the Cape Fear River basin. Officials say the area was cleaned and flushed.

Supplies handouts set for nearly-isolated Wilmington

With one of North Carolina's largest cities, Wilmington, still mostly cut off by floodwaters from what was Hurricane Florence, officials prepared to begin distributing food, water and tarps to residents as yet more people were rescued from submerged inland neighborhoods.

Workers were to begin handing out supplies to stranded residents in the city of 120,000 people Tuesday morning, county officials say.

One road was opened into Wilmington at least briefly, officials said, and items have been brought into the city by big military trucks and helicopters, which also have been used to pluck hundreds of harried people from atop homes and other structures.

The rain finally stopped and the sun peeked through, but North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned that dangerously high water would persist for days. He urged residents who were evacuated from the hardest-hit areas to stay away because of closed roads and catastrophic flooding that submerged entire communities.

"There's too much going on," he told a news conference.

Crews have conducted about 700 rescues in New Hanover County, where Wilmington is located. More than 60 percent of homes and businesses were without power, authorities said. Roads are being cleared and the landfill is open to accept storm refuse.

Mayor Bill Saffo said he was working with the governor's office to get more fuel into Wilmington. "At this time, things are moving as well as can be in the city," he said.

Compounding problems, downed power lines and broken trees crisscrossed many roads in Wilmington three days after Florence made landfall. The smell of broken pine trees wafted through damaged neighborhoods.

Homes vs. highway?

Floodwaters from recent hurricanes Floyd and Matthew came close to entering Joe Holmes' house in South Carolina, but he dodged those bullets. Now, with Florence, he doesn't feel so lucky.

He worries the Waccamaw River will make its way into his Conway home because the state wants to save the main highway into Myrtle Beach, a more densely populated city and tourist destination, from going underwater.

Officials insist they must keep the road open, or hundreds of thousands of people would be isolated. So the state is building a higher wall - in the form of a second level of concrete highway barriers on top of the sides of 1.5 miles of bridges and causeways, sealing them with plastic sheets weighed down with sandbags and rebar - in its last stand on U.S. Highway 501.

Skeptical Conway residents fear this will push water into their neighborhoods, but officials say it won't affect any areas that weren't already doomed to flood - at least not in the models they've run.

The Waccamaw River - which winds through Conway - was already in a major flood at just over 15 feet Monday, according to the National Weather Service. The city had received 16 inches of rain from Florence's slow march inland, and homes were already threatened. By Friday afternoon, the river should top the record of 17.9 feet, set just two years ago in flooding from Hurricane Matthew.

And it won't stop there. By Saturday, the river should be at 18.7 feet. Conway officials say they've been told to expect the river to rise up to an additional 2 feet after that, which would flood nearly 1,000 homes.

"Cajun Navy" volunteers help evacuate North Carolina nursing home residents

A group of volunteers all too familiar with devastating flooding have gone to North Carolina to help in the aftermath of Florence. Cajun Navy Relief and Rescue is a non-profit group of volunteers from across the country. The group was created after flooding hit southern Louisiana in 2016.

CBS News was with the team in Lumberton as they evacuated 40 people from Highland Acres Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Many of the residents were bedridden.

"Yeah, we are risking our lives, but this is worth it," said Chris Russell, one of the volunteers.

It took five hours to rescue the residents and deliver them to area hospitals.

"I think what we were able to accomplish tonight, was to give these people some dignity, holding their hand, asking them if they would like to somebody to pray with them," said Allen Lenard, another volunteer. "As much as I believe we're a blessing to those people, I know as a matter of fact, that they were a blessing to me tonight."

The city has a history of flooding. Two years ago, Hurricane Matthew dumped 20 inches of rain on Lumberton.

Dramatic rescues have become a common sight after storms across the country. Last year, CBS News saw volunteers go out in Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Other "Cajun Navy" volunteers became famous for helping to rescue people trapped by floodwaters in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The makeshift flotilla is credited with rescuing more than 10,000 people from flooded homes and rooftops.

Florence, which made landfall as a hurricane, is blamed for at least 24 deaths. About 500,000 homes and businesses are still without power in North and South Carolina. Since the storm continues to cause heavy rains, flash flooding is still a concern over the Carolinas.

Big>Manure pits at hog farms fail, spill pollution

North Carolina environmental regulators say several open-air manure pits at hog farms have failed and are spilling pollution. Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan said Monday that the earthen dam at one hog lagoon in Duplin County had been breached.

There were also seven reports of lagoon levels going over their tops or being inundated in Jones and Pender counties. Regan said state investigators will visit the sites as conditions allow.

The large pits at hog farms hold feces and urine from the animals to be sprayed on nearby fields.The Associated Press published photos of a hog farm outside Trenton on Sunday where a waste pit was completely submerged under floodwaters. The N.C. Pork Council, an industry trade group, later denied there had been any reports of spills.

Wilmington, N.C., cut off by floodwaters

Wilmington, North Carolina, has been completely cut off by floodwaters and officials are asking for additional help from state law enforcement and the National Guard.

Woody White, chairman of the board of commissioners of New Hanover County, told a news conference Sunday additional rainfall Saturday night made roads into the city impassable.

"Our roads are flooded," he said. "There is no access to Wilmington."

Officials are planning for food and water to be airlifted into the county, he said, although new distribution centers will have to be found because of all the rain in the northern part of the county.

Wilmington residents waited for hours outside stores and restaurants for basic necessities like water. Police guarded the door of one store, and only 10 people were allowed inside at a time.

Earlier Sunday, officials from the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority had said they were almost out of fuel for the water plant and might have to shut it down. The utility later issued a release saying it had found additional fuel.

White said officials have asked Gov. Roy Cooper for additional aid.

Infant dies after tree crashes into N.C. home

Reporter Dedrick Russell of CBS affiliate WBTV in North Carolina shared a picture online that shows the devastating destruction in the wake of Florence.

He cited neighbors who said that a "tree crashed into home ... parents were in the living room with infant -- father rushed out while mother was trapped -- mother delivered baby through window to get baby help."

The baby later died at the hospital.

Flash flood watches posted in West Virginia

Flash flood watches have been posted in parts of southern West Virginia as the remnants of Florence fall on saturated ground. The National Weather Service has issued the watch through Monday evening in Greenbrier, Mercer, Monroe and Summers counties.

The weather service says 2 to 4 inches of rain are expected in the watch area with 5 inches or more possible in parts of the Greenbrier Valley.

A flood warning has been posted in Virginia along the New River, which flows north into West Virginia.

In June 2016, 9 inches of rain fell in 36 hours in parts of West Virginia, leaving 23 dead statewide and destroying thousands of homes, businesses and infrastructure.

Florence picks up speed

Tropical Depression Florence has picked up speed as it continues dumping heavy rains over North and South Carolina. Florence is moving north at 14 mph -- a brisk pace compared to its sluggish crawl across the region since Thursday, when it barely topped speeds at which most humans can walk.

Florence's top sustained wind speeds held at 35 mph. By 5 p.m. Sunday, Florence was centered about 25 miles south-southeast of Greenville, South Carolina, and about 60 miles south-southeast of Asheville, North Carolina.

The National Hurricane Center said Florence is still expected to produce excessive rainfall as it turns from the Carolinas over the Mid-Atlantic and southern New England early this week.

Duke Energy says coal ash spill "ongoing situation"

Duke Energy says the collapse of a coal ash landfill at a closed power station near the North Carolina coast is an "ongoing situation," with an unknown amount of potentially contaminated stormwater flowing into a nearby lake.

Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said Sunday that a full assessment of how much ash escaped at the Sutton Power Station outside Wilmington can't occur until it stops raining. She said there was no indication that contamination from Sutton Lake drained into the nearby Cape Fear River.

The company initially estimated on Saturday that about 2,000 cubic yards of ash were displaced at the landfill, which is enough to fill about 180 dump trucks. Sheehan said that estimate could be revised after a further examination of conditions at the site.

Flooding fears continue as Florence weakens

Florence has weakened into to tropical depression but flash flooding and major river flooding are expected to continue over significant portions of the Carolinas.

The National Hurricane Center said in its 5 a.m. update Sunday that excessive amounts of rain are still being dumped in North Carolina and the effect is expected to be "catastrophic."

An elevated risk of landslides is now expected in western North Carolina. Forecasters say heavy rains also are expected early in the week in parts of West Virginia and the west-central portion of Virginia. Both states also are at a risk of dangerous flash floods and river flooding.

At 5 a.m. Sunday, Florence was about 20 miles southwest of Columbia, South Carolina. It has top sustained winds of 35 mph and is moving west at 8 mph.

Helicopters having trouble reaching hard-hit areas

The top U.S. military commander for U.S. Northern Command says the slow movement of Tropical Storm Florence is making it difficult to get more helicopters airborne for rescues in hard-hit areas.

Marine MV-22 Osprey aircraft are preparing to launch off Navy ships heading toward the coast, to provide greater awareness of what's going, particularly in North Carolina, Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy told the Associated Press.

He said Northern Command is also using two airborne early warning radar and surveillance aircraft, flying above the storm, to assess bridges, roads and other infrastructure. The aircrafts are able to help relay communications from low-flying helicopters to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) if transmissions are affected by storm.

O'Shaughnessy said he expects helicopters and high-water vehicles will be the greatest need.

Virginia bracing for remnants of Florence

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is warning residents in the southwest part of the state to prepare for flooding and possible landslides early next week from the remnants of Florence. The state so far has been spared from severe hurricane impacts, but the southwest portion of the state is expecting up to 12 inches of rain.

Northam said in a news release Saturday that emergency management officials are working to move people and commodities into place to prepare for flooding, including swift water rescue teams. Says Northam: "Now is not the time to let our guard down."

Emergency officials in Virginia have also deployed 25 high-wheeled vehicles and 50 personnel to help with rescue operations in North Carolina.

Rescues completed in New Bern

High-water rescues have been completed in New Bern, North Carolina, a city swamped by flooding from Florence. The city said 455 people in all were rescued from Florence's floodwaters. Waters began rising there late Thursday as Florence approached as a hurricane.

New Bern spokeswoman Colleen Roberts says there were no significant injuries reported during the rescues, and there have been no fatalities in the city. She says a round-the-clock curfew is in effect until Monday morning, meaning residents shouldn't be out on the streets.

Roberts said around 1,200 people were in local shelters Saturday. She said thousands of buildings are damaged and calls the destruction "heart-wrenching."

Florence barely crawling across South Carolina

All coastal storm surge warnings have been discontinued as Tropical Florence slowly plods inland. The National Hurricane Center said water levels along the Carolinas coastline were gradually receding Saturday afternoon, though some minor coastal flooding was possible through Sunday. Florence's heavy rainfall is forecast to continue, potentially causing catastrophic inland flooding.

The hurricane center says some areas along North Carolina's coast could see up to 40 inches of total rain by the time Florence passes through early next week. At 5 p.m. Saturday, Florence was barely crawling west at 2 mph, with its center located about 60 miles west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Florence's top sustained winds were holding at 45 mph. Forecasters say Florence could weaken to a tropical depression late Saturday.

Wild horses on Outer Banks survive Florence

A herd of wild horses that roams a northern portion of North Carolina's Outer Banks has survived Florence just fine. The Corolla Wild Horse Fund, a group devoted to protecting and managing the herd of wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs, posted a message on its Facebook page saying the horses were "doing their normal thing -- grazing, socializing and wondering what us crazy humans are all worked up over."

Forecasts earlier in the week that showed Florence potentially making a more direct hit on the northern Outer Banks had many people worried about how the horses would fare. But wildlife experts had said there was no need to worry.

The Cape Hatteras National Seashore tweeted Saturday that all of the ponies in another herd on Ocracoke Island were safe. The Cape Lookout National Seashore said in a Facebook post that it would provide an update on a herd of horses at another location -- Shackleford Banks -- just as soon as staff could return to do condition assessments.

"In the blink of an eye our street was flooded"

The riverfront city of New Bern, North Carolina, experienced some of the worst flooding from Tropical Storm Florence, where a massive 10-foot storm surge inundated streets and turned houses into islands.

More than 360 people were rescued from in the city from the rising waters. The city said in a Facebook post early Saturday morning that more than 100 people are still waiting for help. Residents like Teia Cherry and her family decided against evacuating, but then came the water. A storm chaser with a boat rescued her.

"Fast. That's all I can say, is fast," Cherry said of how quickly the water came on. "Get somewhere. It's in a blink of an eye. My cousin looked and he turned around in the blink of an eye our street was flooded. That fast."

Outer Banks spared the worst of Florence

Many residents who evacuated North Carolina's Outer Banks ahead of Hurricane Florence are making their way back onto the barrier islands, which were spared from the worst of the storm's wrath. The residents, as well as workers and property owners, were being allowed onto the northern portion of the islands beginning Saturday morning. Visitors were expected to be allowed entry to the same area beginning Sunday.

County officials and business owners reported relatively minimal damage, and there were no immediate reports of injuries or deaths.

While the Outer Banks survived Florence fairly unscathed, scientists say they remain incredibly vulnerable to future storms, climate change and sea-level rise.

Florence remains a large, dangerous storm

Tropical Storm Florence remains a very large, slow and dangerous storm as it swirls over the Carolinas. Florence's top sustained winds were holding at 45 mph, with higher gusts east of the storm's center, the National Hurricane Center said in its 2 p.m. advisory.

At 2 p.m. Saturday, Florence was inching west at 3 mph, with its center located about 50 miles west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Forecasters say prolonged rainfall from Florence could produce catastrophic flash flooding and significant river flooding.

​"Flood waters are rising. If you aren't watching for them, you are risking your life"

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned residents of rising flood waters Saturday morning. "I cannot overstate it, flood waters are rising," he said. "And if you aren't watching for them you are risking your life."

He also urged residents not to go back home until they get the official all-clear, and said many who think the storm has past "have yet to see its threat."

"Residents of Charlotte, Asheville, Fayetteville, Statesville, the Southern Piedmont, the sandhills, the mountains, rivers will rise days after the rain has stopped. In the east, they will crest Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday."

Mandatory evacuation for Cape Fear River

A mandatory evacuation order has been put in place for anyone who lives within a mile of the banks of North Carolina's Cape Fear River and Little River. Officials from Cumberland County, Fayetteville, and the town of Wade issued the order early Saturday afternoon, saying residents there face "imminent danger" from flood waters expected to arrive in the area soon. Residents are being asked to leave immediately.

Officials said flood waters from other areas are accumulating north of the county and filling the river basins beyond their capacities. They asked that the evacuation begin immediately and that everyone within the evacuation areas get out by 3 p.m. Sunday. Seven emergency shelters are open in the county.

Storm forces road closures in North Carolina

Portions of eastern North Carolina's two interstates are closed because of flooding caused by Tropical Storm Florence's torrential rains and may not re-open before Monday. The state Department of Transportation says a 16-mile stretch of Interstate 95 between its intersection with I-40 and near the town of Dunn is closed. Law enforcement has set up a detour.

Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon said Saturday that authorities were still assembling an alternate route for a 5-mile section of I-40 that is closed in both directions near the town of Warsaw, about 70 miles southeast of Raleigh.

The state DOT said on its website that the two roads are expected to re-open by Monday morning.

Trogdon says road conditions are expected to get worse in the immediate future, pointing out the number of closed primary roads in eastern counties had doubled compared to Friday. He urged motorists not to travel east of I-95 or south of U.S. Highway 70.

Alderwoman helps rescue 13 families in New Bern

Jameesha Harris, an alderwoman in New Bern, North Carolina, rescued 13 families with the help of her husband and a group of volunteers. They went door to door rescuing others in areas prone to flooding.

"There's a lot of people that I know have been in their home, and they want to get out and sight-see but they're doing more harm than good," she told CBSN on Saturday. She said there's a lot of residents who need to be rescued and people are slowing up traffic to first responders and police officers.

"We're urging people right now on social media and all avenues to please go back if in your home if you do not need any assistance and trying to sight see, now is not the time," she said.

Swansboro, North Carolina, drenched by 30 inches of rain

The preliminary rainfall total in the North Carolina town of Swansboro stood at 30.58 inches as of noon Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. Newport, Morehead City and Emerald Isle have gotten more than 23 inches of rain.

The weather service tweeted a graphic that showed preliminary rainfall totals as of midday Saturday.

Virginia-based Navy ships return to port

Nearly 30 Virginia-based ships and 128 aircraft sent away from their bases in the Hampton Roads-area because of now-Tropical Storm Florence have been given the go-ahead to return, the Navy said in a statement.

The aircraft will make their way back beginning Saturday, and the ships will start to return Sunday.

The decision comes after inspections of the region's port and airfield, the statement said.

More than 360 rescued in New Bern as others await rescue

In New Bern, North Carolina, rescue crews used boats to carry more than 360 people from rising water. One of them was Sadie Marie Holt, 67, who first tried to row out of her neighborhood during Florence's assault.

"The wind was so hard, the waters were so hard ... We got thrown into mailboxes, houses, trees," said Holt, who had stayed at home because of a doctor's appointment that was later canceled. She was eventually rescued by a boat crew.

"More than 100 people still require rescue and we have three rescue teams who are working around the clock to get into communities to retrieve people," the city of New Bern said in a Facebook post early Saturday morning.

No faster than walking speed

At times, Florence was moving forward no faster than a human can walk, and it has remained such a wide storm that its counter-clockwise winds keep scooping up massive amounts of moisture from the sea. The flooding began on barrier islands in North Carolina and then spread into coastal and river communities there and in South Carolina, swamping the white sands and golf courses in North Myrtle Beach.

For people living inland in North and South Carolina, maximum peril could come days later as all that water drains, overflowing rivers and causing flash floods. Authorities warned, too, of risks of mudslides and environmental disasters from floodwaters washing over industrial waste sites and hog farms.

About 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians were deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats.In Jacksonville, North Carolina, next to Camp Lejeune, firefighters and police fought wind and rain as they went door to door to pull more than 60 people out as the Triangle Motor Inn began to crumble.

Storm expected to turn to the northeast

The hurricane center said the storm will eventually break up over the southern Appalachians and make a right hook to the northeast, its rainy remnants moving into the mid-Atlantic states and New England by the middle of next week.

Florence could become a major test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticized as slow and unprepared last year for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, where the death toll was put at nearly 3,000.

Florence fast facts (current as of 10 a.m. MST, 9/18):

  • At least 32 people have died in storm-related incidents -- 25 in North Carolina, 6 in South Carolina and 1 in Virginia
  • About 500,000 homes and businesses are still without power, mostly in North Carolina but some in South Carolina
  • As of 5 a.m. Tuesday, Florence was a post-tropical cyclone. It was located about 105 miles west-northwest of New York City with maximum sustained winds of 25 mph, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) says
  • "The remnants of Florence are expected to produce heavy to potentially excessive rainfall through Tuesday," NHC says. "Portions of the northern mid-Atlantic states northeast through southern New England are expected to receive an additional 1 to 2 inches of rain, with isolated maximum amounts of 4 inches possible."
  • The Cape Fear River is set to crest at 62 feet Tuesday
  • Nearly 36 inches of rain has fallen over Elizabethtown, North Carolina, reports CBS Raleigh affiliate WNCN-TV. Other towns have seen roughly 30 inches since Thursday