WILMINGTON/FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Reuters) - Rescue teams were trying to reach hundreds of people on Monday and racing against rising rivers and floods that could last for days after Florence dumped record rain on the Carolinas and killed at least 31 people.
Thousands of rescues have taken place in the two states and over 650 people were taken to safety in and around Wilmington, North Carolina, said Barbi Baker, a spokeswoman for New Hanover County. The city, which took a direct hit when Florence ploughed into the state as a hurricane on Friday, has been largely cut off since then due to storm surges and flooding from the Cape Fear River.
As the remnants of Florence moved into the U.S. Northeast, and the sun appeared in some areas for the first time in days, residents of the Carolinas confronted its after-effects, including power outages, impassable roads, and sewage spilling into flooded areas.
Rex Gehring, 62, was unsure what he would do with the house he bought outside Fayetteville, another town on the Cape Fear River, after Hurricane Matthew in 2016 forced its previous owner into foreclosure.
"We’re in a floodplain but a hundred-year one,” he said as floodwaters lapped at the house's front steps. "I guess that means every two years now."
With 1,500 roads closed across North Carolina, fire and rescue crews were waiting to go into many areas to assist with structural damage after Florence dumped up to 36 inches (91 cm) of rain on the state since Thursday.
Flooded roads have also prevented some North Carolina farmers from accessing their fields and livestock to assess damage, said Andrea Ashby, spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
'DANGER IS IMMEDIATE'
"For many parts of North Carolina, the danger is still immediate," North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told a news conference Monday. "Flood waters are rising as rivers crest and they will for days."
Cooper said 2,600 people were rescued in North Carolina, along with 300 animals, and that the rescues were continuing. About 14,000 people are in shelters, officials said.
The dead included a 1-year-old boy swept away from his mother as they tried to escape their car amid floodwaters. The woman had driven around barricades to reach a closed road, the sheriff's office in Union County, near North Carolina's border with South Carolina, said on Facebook.
"Don't drive around barricades. We're seeing this happen now and the result is not good," Cooper said.
Over 450,000 homes and businesses in North and South Carolina were still without power on Monday evening, down from a peak of nearly 1 million outages.
Major rivers are expected to remain flooded for the next two to three weeks as rainwater drains into already engorged rivers across the state, said Steve Goldstein of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
DAMAGES UP TO $22 BILLION
North Carolina had deployed around 2,000 boats and 36 helicopters to help people stranded in floods, Michael Sprayberry, the state's director of emergency management, told ABC's "This Week" programme on Sunday.
The Coast Guard had 26 helicopters and 11 aircraft looking for people in trouble and rescuing people, Coast Guard Rear Admiral Meredith Austin told reporters on Monday.
Property damage from the storm is expected to total at least $17 billion (12.9 billion pounds) to $22 billion, but that forecast could be conservative depending on further flooding, risk management firm Moody's Analytics said.
A power outage at a wastewater treatment plant in Wilmington resulted in partially treated sewage water being released into the Cape Fear River, said Reggie Cheatham, director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Emergency Management.
Sewage releases in the Neuse River also were reported, as well as overflowing manholes.
Overflows also were reported at several hog "lagoons" - used to store waste from pig farms.
(Reporting by Patrick Rucker and Ernest Scheyder; Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Miami; Jessica Resnick-Ault and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Anna Mehler Paperny in North Carolina; and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Lisa Shumkaer)