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Visualizing the impact of Florence

September 17, 2018
1 of 8
Source: NOAA

A day after blowing ashore with 90 mph (145 kph) winds, Florence practically parked itself over land all day long and poured on the rain. With rivers rising toward record levels, thousands of people were ordered evacuated for fear the next few days could bring the most destructive round of flooding in North Carolina history.

A HARD RAIN’S A-GONNA FALL

More than 2 feet of rain had fallen in places, and the drenching went on and on, with forecasters saying there could be an additional 1½ feet by the end of the weekend.

“I cannot overstate it: Floodwaters are rising, and if you aren’t watching for them you are risking your life,” Gov. Roy Cooper said.

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The National Hurricane Center said Florence broke a North Carolina rainfall record that had stood for almost 20 years: Preliminary reports showed Swansboro got over 30 inches and counting, obliterating the mark set in 1999, when Hurricane Floyd dropped just over 24 inches on the state.

As of noon, Emerald Isle had over 23 inches of rain, and Wilmington and Goldsboro had about a foot. North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, had around 7 inches.

Stream gauges across the region showed water levels steadily rising, with forecasts calling for rivers to crest Sunday and Monday at or near record levels. The Little River, the Cape Fear, the Lumber, the Neuse, the Waccamaw and the Pee Dee were all projected to rise over their banks, flooding cities and towns.

The flash flooding could devastate communities and endanger dams, roads and bridge.

Authorities ordered the immediate evacuation of up to 7,500 people living within a mile of a stretch of the Cape Fear River and the Little River, about 100 miles in from the coast. The evacuation zone included part of the city of Fayetteville, population 200,000.

And Officials in nearby Harnett County urged residents of about 1,100 homes to clear out because the Lower Little River was rising toward record levels.

A TOXIC COMBINATION

As Hurricane Florence spins inland, environmental regulators are monitoring more than three dozen toxic waste sites in the storm’s path, as well as scores of low-lying water- and sewage-treatment plants at risk of flooding.

The Environmental Protection Agency has identified 41 Superfund sites in threatened parts of the Carolinas, Virginia and Maryland and Georgia, including polluted industrial sites, chemical plants, coastal shipyards and military bases.

EPA spokesman John Konkus said the agency is listening for any word of oil or hazardous substance spills from first responders, media reports and state and local emergency command posts. He said federal on-scene coordinators and equipment stand ready to deploy if needed.

Superfund sites are among the nation’s most highly polluted places. They often contain contaminated soil and toxic waste at risk of spreading if covered by floodwaters. More than a dozen Superfund sites in the Houston metro area were flooded last year during Hurricane Harvey, with breaches of potentially harmful materials reported at two.

A TALE OF TWO STORMS

Nature expresses its fury in sundry ways. Two deadly storms — Hurricane Florence and Typhoon Mangkhut — roared ashore on the same day, half a world apart, but the way they spread devastation was as different as water and wind.

Storms in the western Pacific generally hit with much higher winds and the people who live in their way are often poorer and more vulnerable, Princeton University hurricane and climate scientist Gabriel Vecchi said Saturday. 

About 30 to 50 percent of storm damage is usually insured in the United States but often less than 10 percent in developing countries, meaning nine-tenths of the people hit by Mangkhut will end up shouldering a bigger economic burden.

So far this year there have been 23 named storms in the western Pacific and 10 in the Atlantic, both regions more than 30 percent busier than average years. Hurricanes and typhoons are the same type of storm; both are tropical cyclones, but those that occur in the Pacific west of the International Date Line are called typhoons.

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