NEW BERN, N.C. — Hurricane Florence was pounding the Carolinas with as much as three inches of rain an hour on Friday as it trudged inland at a meager three miles an hour. As much two feet of rain had already fallen in some places, combining with a wind-driven storm surge to cause catastrophic flooding.
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 rainfall of up to 40 inches may be the real hazard from the storm, which is expected to slowly move southwest into South Carolina before turning north. Read more about the expected floods here.
• Some 300 people were rescued from flood-marooned homes overnight in New Bern, officials said, with dozens more in need of rescue. Read more about the rescues here.
• The storm surge had reached seven feet on Emerald Isle, N.C., and could climb as high as 11 feet elsewhere. More than 600,000 people have lost power in North Carolina.
300 rescued, dozens more awaiting help as New Bern floods
Rescues were underway on Friday in New Bern, N.C., a small city that sits at the confluence of two rivers that run into storm-swollen Pamlico Sound.
Some 300 people were saved from flood-marooned homes, city officials said , and at least another 40 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 city’s mayor, Dana Outlaw, said. “I think people just assume things like this just won’t happen.”
“It’s everything that was predicted,” he said.
[We asked readers living in Florence’s projected path what they’re doing for the storm. Read about their experiences.]
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.”
‘I have never seen this much flooding’
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.
New Bern has been one of the hardest hit areas because of its location — where the Trent and Neuse Rivers meet — and the direction of the storm. The city was one of the first areas to be hit by strong winds and heavy rain, both of which lasted all of Thursday afternoon and into Friday morning.
“The big key point with New Bern and our Outer Banks and the sounds is that the wind is directed right on shore,” said Steve Pfaff, a meteorologist in the Nation Weather Service’s office in Wilmington. “It piles up. That water has nowhere to go.”
Trent Court, a public housing complex that sits by the river, floods even in minor rainstorms but it has never flooded quite like this.
A resident for several years, Essence Keys, 25, managed to get her two little boys to her grandmother’s house on Wednesday. On Thursday afternoon, she looked out the window to see water out front. Walking outside, it was up to her ankles. She managed to get her 7-year-old’s dirt bike off the ground, but she had time for little else; a friend had come to pick her up and take her to work.
“When I was walking out my back door, the water was already coming in my front door,” she said. She left her flooded apartment for her shift at a nursing home. It was a particularly hectic shift, since residents of another nursing home had been brought to this one, while some of her co-workers were dealing with their own flooded homes.
She worked on Thursday, spent the night at the home, and is back at work until Friday afternoon. When the shift ends, she hopes to go get her children, whom she has not heard from for more than a day. Her grandmother has no power and no cellphone, and is in a part of town with water in the streets. Back at Trent Court, people she knows talk of water up to the fourth or fifth step in the staircases leading up from the first floor.
“I don’t have nothing but the clothes that I had on yesterday,” Ms. Keys said.
A warning that the threat is going to last for days
Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina said on Friday that there had not yet been a report of a storm-related fatality, but he painted a grim picture of the destruction Hurricane Florence was inflicting.
Wind gusts as high as 105 m.p.h. had been recorded near Wilmington. The State Highway Patrol had responded to 30 vehicle collisions and more than 100 calls for help. Hundreds of rescues had taken place already, and more were underway. Several state roads remained underwater and impassable in the coastal area.
The governor warned of forecasts that predicted 1,000-year rainfall in some areas — rainfall so severe it has a one-in-a-thousand chance of occurring in any given year. The state’s rivers are rising, and will continue to rise, in some places to record levels, Mr. Cooper said. The ground is already saturated by recent rains, he said, raising the risk of flash flooding. He expected mudslides and rockslides as the storm moved inland.
“It’s getting worse,” Mr. Cooper said. “The storm is going to continue its violent grind across our state for days and be a major inland event as well.”
Shortly after the news conference, officials in Wilmington reported that a tree had fallen on a family’s home, injuring at least one. The person’s condition was not released by the hospital. Three people were believed to be inside the home when the tree collapsed. Rescue workers were trying to find the other two people, who were thought to be trapped.
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.
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.
Hurricane Florence in pictures
As Hurricane Florence makes it way inland, photographers for The New York Times are spread out through North and South Carolina, documenting scenes as residents weather the storm. See more of their photographs here.
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.
“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.
The powerful winds forced rescue teams to suspend operations in South Carolina’s Horry County, which includes Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach.
Jay Fernandez, the director of public safety for North Myrtle Beach, said in a telephone interview that there was an order throughout the county to suspend operations after high winds began to place rescuers at risk.
“We have now halted emergency responses until storm conditions allow for personnel to respond safely,” Mr. Fernandez said. “Luckily at this point there has been nobody I am aware of that has been trapped.”
Stacy R. Stewart, a senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center, said Florence would continue to weaken as it moved west into South Carolina.
“We’re moving from a coastal threat of storm-surge flooding and strong winds to more of a heavy rainfall — very heavy rainfall — and a tornado threat as Florence moves farther inland,” he said.
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.
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.
In Virginia, other evacuees watched television reports about the storm over breakfast Friday morning at the Holiday Inn Express and Suites in La Crosse.
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.