NEW BERN, N.C. — Hurricane Florence, lashing the North Carolina coast with strong winds and blinding rain, made landfall Friday morning having already driven dangerous storm surges of several feet into beach and river towns.
The eye of the storm came ashore at Wrightsville Beach, N.C., just east of Wilmington, and was dumping huge amounts of rain on the coast as it crawled forward at only three miles an hour. In the riverfront city of New Bern, emergency rescue teams were trying to reach hundreds of residents trapped in cars, on roofs and in their attics as the Neuse River overflowed and flooded the city.
Here are the latest developments:
• The storm, which was downgraded to Category 1 late Thursday, made landfall about 7:15 a.m., with winds of about 90 miles an hour. By 11 a.m. it was about 20 miles southwest of Wilmington, and the wind had dropped to 80 miles an hour. Track the storm’s location here.
• Forecasters warned that the rains may be the real hazard from the storm, which is expected to slowly move southwest into South Carolina before turning north.Continue reading the main story
• Some 200 people were rescued from flood-marooned homes overnight in New Bern, the mayor, Dana Outlaw, said. Another 150 were in need of rescue on Friday morning.
• About 60 people were evacuated from a hotel in Jacksonville, N.C., local news media reported, after the storm’s strong winds threatened the structural integrity of the building. Here’s what the fierce wind feels like on the coast.Continue reading the main story
• The storm surge had reached seven feet on Emerald Isle, N.C., and could climb as high as 11 feet elsewhere. A high tide around noon Friday could exacerbate the surge. Rainfall of up to 40 inches is expected to bring widespread inland flooding.
• Almost 500,000 people have lost power in North Carolina, while officials in Onslow County reported “major structural damage to homes, businesses and institutions”.
• Florence is proving to be a lumbering giant, crawling along the coastline as it dumps rain across the Carolinas. Anxiety is high in towns as far inland as Greenville, N.C., where residents braced for the one-two punch of rain and storm surge. Read more about the expected floods here.
• More than 4,500 people had checked into shelters in South Carolina, and the authorities said they had space for more than 34,000 across 64 shelters. North Carolina had opened 126 shelters for about 12,000 people, and is trying to open more. Here’s what it’s like inside.
• We asked readers living in Florence’s projected path what they’re doing for the storm. Read about their experiences.
• The New York Times is providing open and unlimited access to our coverage of Hurricane Florence and Typhoon Mangkhut. Catch up on the rest of our coverage here.
• Our reporters are spread out across the Carolinas and Virginia covering the storm. Follow @RichardFausset, @campbellnyt, @JackHealyNYT, @sherifink, @tylerpager and @davidzucchino. Our photographers are also documenting the storm here: See Hurricane Florence in pictures.
200 rescued, 150 awaiting help as New Bern floods
Rescues were underway on Friday morning in New Bern, N.C., a small city that sits at the confluence of two rivers that run into storm-swollen Pamlico Sound.
Some 200 people were rescued from flood-marooned homes overnight, said the mayor, Dana Outlaw, and another 150 were awaiting rescue. Some were in the second floors of homes, others in attics.
“New Bern has not seen a storm like this since the ’50s,” the mayor said. “I think people just assume things like this just won’t happen.”
“It’s everything that was predicted,” he said.
New Bern officials, the mayor and aldermen had gone around low-lying neighborhoods on Thursday urging people to leave and offering rides to shelters. Most did get out — the mayor estimated 70 percent — but not everyone.
“A lot of people, this is their whole lives and they had pride, and they did not want to leave,” an alderwoman, Jameesha Harris, said. “Those same individuals that I knocked on their doors had family members calling me to say they’re on their roof.”
The badly flooded areas are all around the town, not isolated to just one spot, Ms. Harris said: “Downtown is literally underwater.”
New Bern is the largest city in Craven County, which has a population of 105,000. Some calls for rescue were also coming from outlying areas of the county, said Amber Parker, a county spokeswoman.
A resident, Gray Swindell, who lives about a quarter mile south of the Trent River, said “I have never seen this much flooding in New Bern and I have lived here 53 years.”
Five swift-water rescue teams and volunteers were responding to calls from people who were stranded, Ms. Parker said. She said many calls were for multiple people in need of help, including one from a home in the low-lying Fairfield Harbor neighborhood, with nine people who were heading to the attic.
On New Bern’s Facebook page, the Police Department warned residents whose homes were flooded not to go into the attic unless they had a way to cut through the ceiling for ventilation.
Mr. Swindell said that it started raining on Thursday afternoon and had not let up. His yard, which backs up to a creek that feeds into the river, was covered by rising water that had not yet made its way into his house — and nothing like the reported six feet of water in downtown New Bern, he said.
“The winds were better than what we expected, but the flooding is worse than what we expected,” Mr. Swindell, 53, said by telephone.
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Mr. Swindell said he stayed only because his parents refused to leave their home in New Bern. He said that he, along with his sister and brother, all pleaded with their parents to leave but their father refused.
“He kept getting mad at us,” Mr. Swindell said. “I wasn’t about to leave them here.”
[In the face of a storm, many people who are older and chronically ill either cannot or will not leave. Read more here about how to make an emergency kit, plan ahead and stay informed.]
FEMA says it has deployed resources across the region
Facing rainfall totals that could top 40 inches in certain areas, Federal Emergency Management Agency and other government officials said they were focusing on saving lives as they anticipated several more days of flooding and destruction from Hurricane Florence.
The officials outlined a vast deployment of resources: 1,100 FEMA rescuers in North and South Carolina, 40 aircraft, more than 7,100 members of the Coast Guard, 500 medical personnel deployed to shelters, and the deployment of the National Guard of both Carolinas.
The officials also said swift water boats, high-water vehicles and a variety of rescue specialists were standing by. The United States Army Corps of Engineers was watching several dams in the area, but said that they have the capacity to hold Florence’s rainfall.
The message, the officials said, was no longer to evacuate out of harm’s way, but to stay where you are.
“Homes will be damaged or destroyed,” said Jeff Byard, associate administrator for response and recovery for FEMA.
Waiting for the back half of the storm
Skippy Winner, an 84-year-old retired sea captain, spent Thursday night inside his fortified home in Carolina Beach, N.C., as Hurricane Florence raged outside. By 8:30 a.m. Friday, Mr. Winner was standing in his yard, surveying the damage from the storm as the eye wall passed over the exposed barrier island.
“I made it through the night just fine,” he said in a telephone interview. “But I think there’s worse to come when we get the back side of the storm.”
Forecasters have said Carolina Beach, a small, low-lying beach community south of Wilmington, N.C., is likely to bear the full brunt of the hurricane as the northeast quadrant of the storm spins south and west across the island after making landfall at Wrightsville Beach, just up the coast, shortly after 7 a.m. Friday.
Mr. Winner, who has ridden out every hurricane and nor’easter on the island since Hurricane Hazel in 1954, said that as the storm turns south, the island will be hit with fierce winds from the northeast once the eye passes. He said he learned to read storms and winds during his long career as a charter boat and head boat captain.
So far, he said, he has lost just one tree, and has had only minor flooding in his yard because the powerful winds have blown most of the water away. His house lost power at about 7 p.m. Thursday night as the storm intensified.
“We’re not through the worst of it yet — it’s going to be bad all along the whole coast,” Mr. Winner said as he went back inside.
[Read more about the holdouts who never leave for a storm.]
In Wilmington, N.C., power was out across much of the city as fierce winds blew tree limbs and debris into flooded streets. At 9:45 a.m., sheets of rain were pelting homes and parked cars. Trees were bent over, their limbs scraping the soggy ground.
In the Masonboro area of east Wilmington, storm drains were clogged with leaves and debris, causing backups that flooded some neighborhood streets. Severed tree limbs littered several rain-soaked yards. Streets were deserted as those residents who chose to stay home during the storm hunkered down inside.
Finding shelter away from home
Three years ago, Lavette Pixley and her son thought they could ride out a massive storm fed by Hurricane Joaquin as it moved through the Atlantic. Then they woke up to a flooded apartment and had to be rescued by firefighters.
As Hurricane Florence approached Thursday afternoon, hours from making landfall, Ms. Pixley and her 8-year-old son, Tayon, left their apartment for Ridge View High School, where the American Red Cross is operating a shelter. This time, Ms. Pixley said, they chose to take no chances.
“I’m scared. We have bad memories from last time,” she said. “It’s better to be somewhere dry and safe.”
By Thursday evening, Ms. Pixley, 46, was lying on a cot provided by the Red Cross, and Tayon was playing with his Spider-Man stuffed animal. They were among 85 people who had traveled from across the state to seek shelter at the school. The majority are from Richland County, which includes Columbia, but some drove from as far as Charleston, S.C., about 115 miles away.
[Here’s how to protect your tech in a storm]
Other evacuees watched television reports about the storm over breakfast Friday morning at the Holiday Inn Express and Suites in La Crosse, Va.
LaVene Painter, 86, a retired shoe factory supply clerk, arrived Thursday afternoon with her friend of more than three decades, Ruby Daniel, 82. The two live about 120 miles west of Virginia Beach in Alberta, Va., and were concerned that large pine trees around their homes could fall and trap them. Both have chronic medical problems, with Ms. Painter having survived two heart attacks and breast cancer.
“We usually get together when we have bad thunderclouds,” Ms. Painter said. “She’ll come over and spend the night.”
This time, for the first time, the hurricane threat led them to pack up their medications and snacks and leave town. “I have been scared,” Ms. Painter said.
Read more about how evacuees are making the best of a bad situation here.Continue reading the main story