Storm Florence: Disaster declared in North Carolina

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Media captionGusts & floods: the impact of the storm

US President Donald Trump has declared a disaster in North Carolina where a tropical storm has killed six amid warnings the worst is far from over.

Florence’s top sustained winds have weakened to 50mph (80km/h), but it is projected to bring further catastrophic flash flooding.

Some towns have already had over 2ft (60cm) of rain, and forecasters warn that totals could hit 3.5ft (1m).

Nearly a million householders have no electricity in the Carolinas.

On the other side of the world, meanwhile, more than a dozen people have died as Typhoon Mangkhut rips through the Philippines.

  • Deadly typhoon wreaks Philippines carnage
  • Here’s how to survive a monster storm

President Trump’s disaster declaration for eight North Carolina counties frees up federal funding including grants for property repairs and low-cost loans to cover uninsured losses.

The president may travel to the region next week, the White House has said.

Five of the deaths from Florence were in North Carolina:

  • A mother and her child were killed in Wilmington when a tree fell on their home on Friday. The infant’s father was taken to hospital for injuries
  • A 78-year-old man was electrocuted in Lenoir County while attempting to connect extension cords
  • A 77-year-old man in the same county died when he was blown down by high winds while checking on his hunting dogs
  • A woman died from cardiac arrest in the town of Hampstead after emergency responders had their route to her blocked by downed trees

The sixth victim – and the first in South Carolina – was a 62-year-old woman who died when her car hit a tree that had fallen across a road in the town of Union.

Two other fatalities in Carteret County were earlier blamed on the storm, but authorities later clarified a husband and wife had died in an apparent murder-suicide, reports the Charlotte Observer.

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Media captionThe Weather Channel uses virtual reality to show deadly storm surge

On Saturday morning, the 350-mile-wide storm was strolling along at 2mph, unleashing drenching downpours in eastern South Carolina.

About 100 people still need to be rescued in New Bern, North Carolina, where some 4,200 homes have been damaged, the mayor told CNN.

The riverfront city of 30,000 people has been deluged by 10ft of water, the National Weather Service (NWS) reported.

Householders were stranded in their cars, attics and on rooftops.

On Saturday, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned of “epic” levels of rainfall.

“The water is rising fast everywhere, even in places that don’t typically flood,” he said.

Hundreds of residents have already been plucked to safety from flooded homes in the North Carolina counties of Beaufort and Craven.

Officials warn Florence could unleash floods inland into early next week.

Between 10-15ins of rain is expected along with storm surges of 2-5ft across the region.

“This rainfall will continue to produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding,” said the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in a bulletin.

The Federal Emergency Management Authority said motorists should not attempt to drive through floodwaters.

“Just turn around and don’t drown,” officials said.

The storm is expected to become a tropical depression on Saturday, significantly weakening over the weekend, the NHC said.

But the NWS warned people to stay on guard.

“Don’t be fooled – just because Florence is now a tropical storm doesn’t mean that the impacts no longer exist,” it tweeted on Saturday.

Nearly 950,000 customers have no electricity in the Carolinas, the News & Observer reported.

As many as 2.5 million North Carolina residents could be left without power, the state’s Department of Public Safety said.

  • The numbers behind impact of Florence
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About 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians have been deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats.

More than 22,600 people were housed in 150 North Carolina shelters, such as churches, schools and a basketball arena.

Florence made landfall in Wilmington, North Carolina, on Friday morning as a category one hurricane.

The National Hurricane Center downgraded it to a tropical storm later in the day.


A guide to the world’s deadliest storms

Hurricanes are violent storms that can bring devastation to coastal areas, threatening lives, homes and businesses.

Hurricanes develop from thunderstorms, fuelled by warm, moist air as they cross sub-tropical waters.
Warm air rises into the storm.

Air swirls in to fill the low pressure in the storm, sucking air in and upwards, reinforcing the low pressure.

The storm rotates due to the spin of the earth and energy from the warm ocean increases wind speeds as it builds.

When winds reach 119km/h (74mph), it is known as a hurricane – in the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific – or a typhoon in the Western Pacific.

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. Well, we’re about to get punched in the face.”
Florida Mayor Bob Buckhorn, ahead of Hurricane Irma (2017)

The central eye of calmer weather is surrounded by a wall of rainstorms.
This eyewall has the fastest winds below it and violent currents of air rising through it.

A mound of water piles up below the eye which is unleashed as the storm reaches land.
These storm surges can cause more damage from flooding than the winds.

“Urgent warning about the rapid rise of water on the SW FL coast with the passage of #Irma’s eye. MOVE AWAY FROM THE WATER!”
Tweet from the National Hurricane Center

The size of hurricanes is mainly measured by the Saffir-Simpson scale – other scales are used in Asia Pacific and Australia.

Winds 119-153km/h
Some minor flooding, little structural damage.
Storm surge +1.2m-1.5m

Winds 154-177km/h
Roofs and trees could be damaged.
Storm surge +1.8m-2.4m

Winds 178-208km/h
Houses suffer damage, severe flooding
Storm surge +2.7m-3.7m

Hurricane Sandy (2012) caused $71bn damage in the Caribbean and New York

Winds 209-251km/h
Some roofs destroyed and major structural damage to houses.
Storm surge +4m-5.5m

Hurricane Ike (2008) hit Caribbean islands and Louisiana and was blamed for at least 195 deaths

Winds 252km/h+
Serious damage to buildings, severe flooding further inland.
Storm surge +5.5m

Hurricane Irma (2017) caused devastation in Caribbean islands, leaving thousands homeless

“For everyone thinking they can ride this storm out, I have news for you: that will be one of the biggest mistakes you can make in your life.”
Mayor of New Orleans Ray Nagin ahead of Hurricane Gustav, 2008

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