Hundreds are still trapped from Florence’s flooding, and ‘the worst is still yet to come’

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Florence’s catastrophic encore could bring some of the most destruction yet on Sunday.

“We’re going to get hammered,” said Kevin Arata, spokesman for the city of Fayetteville, North Carolina. “The worst is still yet to come.”

Never mind that Florence weakened to a tropical depression overnight. That just means the wind speeds calmed down slightly. The real dangers are Florence’s relentless rainfall and historic flooding, which keeps getting worse.

Florence has already killed 14 people in two states, including several in flash flooding. Volunteer rescue groups such as the Cajun Army and emergency workers are scrambling to save the hundreds of people still trapped by rising floodwater.

“We actually just rescued over 200 people, and we’ve got about another 300 to 500” left to rescue, Cajun Army President Todd Terrell said Sunday. “The water is coming up really fast.”

And in Lumberton, North Carolina — a city submerged by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 — residents are bracing for potential disaster as the Lumber River threatens to burst through a recently patched-up gap in the levee system.

Latest developments

• Widespread power outages: About 760,000 electricity customers in North Carolina and 36,000 in South Carolina don’t have power. But the number of actual people without power is far greater, since a single customer can represent an entire family.

• Florence is lingering in the Southeast: As of Sunday morning, Florence was centered about 20 miles southwest of Columbia, South Carolina, the National Hurricane Center said. It was moving west at 8 mph, whipping 35 mph winds.

• Much more flooding to come: Florence is expected to leave a total of 40 inches of rain in North Carolina and the northeastern tip of South Carolina, the hurricane center said. Some other parts of South Carolina will be left with 15 inches of rain.

• Watch out for landslides, too: “In addition to the flash flood and flooding threat, landslides are possible in the higher terrain of the southern and central Appalachians across western North Carolina into southwest Virginia,” the hurricane center said.

Looting is a problem: Police arrested five people who allegedly looted a Dollar General store in Wilmington, North Carolina. Another person was arrested for allegedly looting an Exxon gas station and convenience store in the same city.

‘Let’s get in the truck and get out of here’

Residents in Lumberton watched nervously as the Lumber River swelled 10 feet deeper than flood stage. The city was submerged for days after 2016’s Hurricane Matthew.

Volunteers and city workers have been filling sandbags, trying to plug a low point in the levee system before the river crests.

Bobby Hunt’s house is still damaged from Matthew. As the river kept rising Sunday, he knew it was time to flee.

“Let’s get in the truck and get out of here,” Hunt said as his family quickly left their boarded-up home.

Hunt said Matthew caught them by surprise with flooding in the middle of the night. He’s not waiting for that to happen again.

The Lumber River is rising faster than expected, officials said. It’s likely to reach 24 feet by midday Sunday — 11 feet beyond flood stage.

And once the river reaches 26 feet, authorities predicted, the barriers will be overwhelmed.

Causes of death include electrocution and fallen trees

Authorities say 14 deaths have been linked to Florence:

— Three people who died in flash flooding or swift water on roads in Duplin County, North Carolina

— Two people who died in a storm-related fire in Cumberland County, North Carolina

— A mother and a child who were killed when a tree fell on their house in Wilmington, North Carolina

— Two people who died from carbon monoxide poisoning in Horry County, South Carolina.

— A woman in South Carolina who struck a downed tree while she was driving.

— A person who was killed in Georgetown County, South Carolina. State officials have not released more details on why that death is storm-related.

— A woman who suffered cardiac arrest in Hampstead, North Carolina. When emergency responders tried to reach her, their path was blocked by fallen trees.

— A man who was killed while checking on his dogs in Lenoir County, North Carolina.

— Another man in Lenoir County who was electrocuted while trying to connect two extension cords.

As much of North Carolina faces flooding for days, Gov. Roy Cooper said the risk of more deaths is quite real.

“Remember: Most storm deaths occur from drowning in fresh water, often in cars,” he said. “Don’t drive across standing or moving water.”

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