Storm Florence: Heavy flooding cuts off Wilmington

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Media captionStorm Florence has dumped up to 40in (100cm) of rain on parts of North Carolina since Thursday

The coastal city of Wilmington, North Carolina, has been cut off from the rest of the state because of heavy floods following Hurricane Florence.

Officials say all roads in and out are now impassable and have warned evacuated residents to stay away.

About 400 people have been rescued from flood waters in the city, described as an island within the state.

Two of the first known fatalities – a mother and her seven-month son – were reported in the city on Friday morning.

At least 15 other people are reported to have died in storm-related incidents across North and South Carolina since Florence made landfall on Thursday.

In Wilmington, with its population of about 120,000, some 400 people have had to be rescued from flood waters, and most of the city remains without power.

The National Weather Service has warned of at least two further days of possible flash flooding in the area before conditions are forecast to improve.

“Do not come here,” New Hanover County Commission Chairman Woody White said.

“Our roads are flooded, there is no access into Wilmington…We want you home, but you can’t come yet.”

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The Waffle House chain remained open in the marooned city

The area is usually best known as a filming location for US dramas One Tree Hill and Dawson’s Creek.

US basketball legend Michael Jordan – who is fundraising to help residents affected by the storm – also grew up in the city.

Many roads inside Wilmington are still passable for residents who defied evacuation orders to ride the storm out.

But a city-wide curfew has been extended after five people were arrested on suspicion of looting from a store in the city on Saturday.

What is the latest on the storm?

Florence has now weakened into a tropical depression with winds of 35mph (55km/h), according to the National Hurricane Centre.

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Media captionGusts & floods: the impact of the storm

Some parts of the Carolinas have seen up to 40in (100cm) of rain since Thursday – and officials have warned river levels are yet to peak in places.

“The storm has never been more dangerous than it is right now,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said on Sunday.

“Wherever you live in North Carolina, be alert for sudden flooding.”

  • Here’s how to survive a monster storm
  • In pictures: Hurricane Florence hits

The governor also warned of the potential danger of landslides once the weather system reached more mountainous areas.

The US coast guard and volunteer boats have been helping people left stricken by rising flood waters across the states.

Officials in North Carolina have said about 900 people have been rescued from floodwaters there, and about 15,000 people are still in emergency shelters.

US President Donald Trump has declared a disaster in several North Carolina counties – a move that frees up federal funding for recovery efforts.

He has praised federal and local law enforcement response to the storm on Twitter several times and the White House has indicated he may visit the affected area in coming days.

Power companies are working to restore power to the almost 650,000 homes and businesses that are still without electricity.

The centre of the storm is still over North Carolina but is expected to accelerate north on Sunday night local time before turning to head toward New England on Tuesday.

What do we know of the victims?

Eleven deaths were reported in North Carolina, and at least six have been reported in South Carolina.

A mother and her seven-month child who died when a tree fell on their house in Wilmington were the first known deaths reported.

Among the other fatalities were two men in their 70s who died in Lenoir County – one had been connecting extension cords and another was blown by high winds when checking on his dogs.

Four road deaths in South Carolina have been blamed on the storm, and two people died from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a generator inside their home.

Hurricanes

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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