NEW BERN, N.C. (AP) — Emergency workers went door to door urging people to flee Florence’s rising waters and used inflatable boats to rescue others as the storm practically parked itself over land and poured on the rain Saturday, raising fears that North Carolina could be in for the most disastrous flooding in its history.
The death toll from the hurricane-turned-tropical storm climbed to at least five.
A day after Florence blew ashore in North Carolina with 90 mph winds, more than 2 feet of rain had fallen in places, and the drenching went on and on, with forecasters saying there could be an additional 1½ feet by the end of the weekend.
Rivers and creeks rose toward historic levels, threatening flash flooding that could devastate communities and endanger dams, roads and bridges.
“I cannot overstate it: Floodwaters are rising, and if you aren’t watching for them you are risking your life,” Gov. Roy Cooper said.
In its initial onslaught along the coast, Florence buckled buildings, deluged entire communities and knocked out power to more than 870,000 homes and businesses. But the storm was shaping up as a two-part disaster, with the second, delayed-action stage consisting of inland flooding, caused by rainwater working its way into rivers and streams.
The dead included a mother and baby killed when a tree fell on a house in Wilmington, North Carolina. South Carolina recorded its first death from the storm when officials said a 61-year-old woman was killed when her vehicle hit a tree that had fallen across a highway.
Officials in North Carolina’s Harnett County, about 90 miles inland, urged residents of about 1,100 homes to evacuate because the Lower Little River was rising toward record levels.
In New Bern, along the coast, aerial photos show homes completely surrounded by water, with rescuers using inflatable boats to reach people. More than 360 people have been carried to safety since Thursday night amid rising waters from a river swelled by both rain and salty storm surge.
A pet dog licked Johan Mackie’s face after he helped rescue Kevin Knox’s family from their flooded brick home. The Army sergeant was part of a team using a phone app to locate people in distress.
Mackie rode in a boat through a flooded neighborhood, navigating through trees and past a fence post to get to the Knox house.
“Amazing. They did awesome,” said Knox, who was stranded with seven others, including a boy who was carried out in a life vest. “If not we’d be stuck upstairs for the next … how long? I have no idea.”
At 11 a.m., Florence was centered about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, inching west at 2 mph (4 kph) — not even as fast as a person can walk. Its winds were down to 45 mph (75 kph).
With the eye of Florence stalled near the coast, the half of the storm still out over the Atlantic continued to collect warm ocean water and dump it on land.
Stream gauges across the region showed water levels steadily rising, with forecasts calling for rivers to crest Sunday and Monday at or near record levels. The Little River, the Cape Fear, the Lumber, the Neuse, the Waccamaw and the Pee Dee were all projected to rise over their banks, flooding cities and towns.
Along the Lumber River in Lumberton, workers used heavy machinery to dump extra sand on a railbed prone to flooding.
National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said radar and rain gauges indicated some areas got as much as 2½ feet of rain, which he called “absolutely staggering.”
“And we’re not done yet,” Graham said, adding that some hard-hit areas could get an additional 15 to 20 inches because the storm was moving so slowly.
As of noon, Swansboro, North Carolina, had nearly 31 inches of rain, Emerald Isle had over 23, and Wilmington and Goldsboro had about a foot. North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, had about 7 inches.
Charlotte and Asheville in North Carolina, and Roanoke, Virginia, could also be in for heavy rains as Florence plods inland. Areas like New Bern also could see an additional 3 to 5 feet of storm surge as high tide combines with the seawater still being pushed ashore by Florence, Graham said.
The hurricane center said the storm will eventually break up over the southern Appalachians and make a sharp rightward swing to the northeast, its rainy remnants moving into the mid-Atlantic states and New England by the middle of next week.
North Carolina alone is forecast to get 9.6 trillion gallons (36 trillion liters), enough to cover the Tar Heel state to a depth of about 10 inches (25 centimeters).
AP writers Jonathan Drew in Wilmington; Jeffrey Collins in Fork, South Carolina; Denise Lavoie and Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Virginia; Gary Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina; Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina; Seth Borenstein, Michael Biesecker and Emery P. Dalesio in Washington; Martha Waggoner in Raleigh, North Carolina; Jennifer Kay in Miami; Russ Bynum in Columbia, South Carolina; and Jay Reeves in Atlanta contributed to this report.