Travel still dangerous amid flooding in parts North Carolina

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A sign commemorating the rebuilding of the town of Nichols, which was flooded two years earlier from Hurricane Matthew, stands in floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Nichols, S.C., Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. Virtually the entire town is once again flooded and inaccessible except by boat. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

BLADENBORO, N.C. (AP) — Travel remained dangerous Saturday in southeastern North Carolina, where the governor warned of “treacherous” floodwaters more than a week after Hurricane Florence made landfall, and urged residents to stay alert for flood warnings and evacuation orders.

Gov. Roy Cooper said nine of the state’s river gauges are at major flood stage and four others are at moderate stage, while parts of Interstates 95 and 40 will remain underwater for another week or more. Emergency management officials said residents whose homes were damaged or destroyed will begin moving into hotel rooms next week.

South Carolina also has ordered more evacuations as rivers continue to rise in the aftermath of a storm that has claimed at least 43 lives since slamming into the coast more than a week ago.

Benetta White and David Lloyd were among 100 people rescued with helicopters, boats and high-wheeled military vehicles during a six-hour operation in southeastern North Carolina’s Bladen County that lasted into Friday morning — their second evacuation in a week. White and Lloyd, who live in the North Carolina town of Kelly, were given little time Thursday night to evacuate when the Cape Fear River came rushing onto their property. By the time they loaded their van, they had to slog through waist-high, foul-smelling water to get to a neighbor’s pickup.

From there, they went to the town’s fire department and were taken by an Army truck to a shelter at a Bladen County high school.

“We had to evacuate again, all over again, and got trapped in a bunch of water and almost lost our lives,” said White.

North Carolina Emergency Management Director Michael Sprayberry said Saturday that major eastern counties continue to see major flooding, including areas along the Black, Lumber, Neuse and Cape Fear rivers. The Cape Fear river is expected to crest Sunday and remain at flood stage through early next week.

He said residents who register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be able to begin moving into hotels Monday. The program will initially be open to residents in nine counties, then will be expanded to more. A FEMA coordinator said about 69,000 people from North Carolina already have registered for assistance.

North Carolina environmental officials said they’re closely monitoring two sites in the state where Florence’s floodwaters have inundated coal ash sites .

The state is using drones to get photos and video from the site of a dam breach at the L.V. Sutton Power Station in Wilmington, where gray muck has been seen flowing into the Cape Fear River, and at the H.F. Lee Power Plant near Goldsboro, said Michael Regan, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.

He said Saturday that the video and photos show sand and “potential coal ash” leaving the Sutton site, and the DEQ will put people on the ground when it is safe. He said that DEQ staff has seen that coal ash has left the basin and entered flood waters at the H.F. Lee plant, and is trying to determine “how much of that, if any” has entered into the Neuse River.

In Conway, South Carolina, water from the Waccamaw river had begun flowing into a Santee Cooper ash pond. The company said in a statement that the overtopping occurred Saturday morning, but no significant environmental impact was expected because nearly all of the ash had been excavated from the pond.

The National Weather Service confirmed Saturday that 10 tornadoes spawned by Hurricane Florence touched down in Virginia on Monday, the strongest of which leveled a flooring company in Chesterfied and killed one worker.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has estimated damage from the flood in his state at $1.2 billion. In a letter he said the flooding will be the worst disaster in the state’s modern history, and asked congressional leaders to hurry federal aid.

Speaking in Las Vegas, President Donald Trump said South Carolina is in for a “tough one” as floodwaters continue to rise.

“They got hit, but the big hit comes days later and it will be the biggest they’ve ever had,” said Trump, who visited North and South Carolina this week.

Kevin Tovornik was scrambling to prepare for flooding in Conway, South Carolina. He loaded all of his furniture into a borrowed flatbed hay trailer and took it to a warehouse where space was being donated to possible flood victims. Tovornik’s neighborhood already flooded early Monday because of Florence’s heavy rain. He lost his wife’s car.

Tovornik wanted to go back to his house on Friday for more preparations, but with bridges starting closing all around Conway because of floodwaters, the few open roads were jammed. He had gone half a mile (800 meters) in an hour. He heard friends stuck in traffic Thursday night for four hours.

“This is ridiculous. This is the worst I’ve ever seen, and that includes hurricane evacuations,” Tovornik said.

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Waggoner and Robertson reported from Raleigh, N.C. Also contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina; Chevel Johnson in New Orleans; Meg Kinnard in Galivants Ferry, South Carolina; Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Virginia; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; Michael Biesecker in Washington and Tammy Webber in Chicago.

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