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A week after Florence hit, flooding in Carolinas is only getting worse

A week after Florence hit, flooding in Carolinas is only getting worse
A flooded street in Nichols, S.C., on Friday. (Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)

With muddy river water still washing over entire communities Friday, a full week after Hurricane Florence slammed into land and dropped 3 feet of rain in spots, new evacuation orders forced residents to flee to higher ground amid a sprawling disaster that just won’t go away.

At least 42 people have died, including an elderly man whose body was found in a pickup that had been submerged in South Carolina, and hundreds were forced from their homes as rivers kept swelling higher and higher.

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Leaders in the Carolinas warned residents not to get complacent as it became plain that additional miseries lay ahead before things would get much better.

“Although the winds are gone and the rain is not falling, the water is still there and the worst is still to come,” said South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster.

Speaking in Las Vegas, President 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.

While most people’s lights are back on in the Carolinas and Virginia and trucks are picking up mountains of storm debris in many areas, water draining toward the sea from inland areas is sending rivers over their banks across a wide region.

Rescuers wearing night-vision goggles used helicopters, boats and big-wheeled military vehicles overnight to evacuate about 100 people from a southeastern North Carolina county where high water breached a levee and flooded a town.

And in South Carolina, emergency managers ordered about 500 people to flee homes along the Lynches River. The National Weather Service said the river could reach record flood levels late Saturday or early Sunday. Shelters are open.

In tiny Galivants Ferry, Audra Mauer said she lost her home two years ago when Hurricane Matthew hit, and she’s losing it again to Florence. No improvements were made to the area after Matthew, Mauer said, and she has no faith any will happen now.

“They didn’t clean the ditches,” she said. “Same levee. Same dams. What have we been doing for two years? ... Where did the money go to fix everything, to make the power lines stronger and to replace the poles?”

About 25 miles nearer to the South Carolina coast, Kevin Tovornik was tearing soggy carpet out of the house he has owned for 20 years in Conway, where the Waccamaw River was still rising. Bridges are starting to close because of flooding, he said, and friends were stuck in traffic for four hours trying to get through the town of 23,000 people.

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

Roads also were a major problem in Wilmington, a North Carolina city of 120,000 people still mostly cut off from the rest of the state. A photograph posted by the state transportation agency showed flowing water and buckled asphalt on a highway that had been one of the few passable routes into the city, where officials have distributed food and water to residents.

Along the Cape Fear River, David and Benetta White and their four children were given short notice to evacuate overnight when floodwaters came rushing onto their property. By the time they got loaded into their van, water was waist-high and they had to slog through a foul-smelling soup to get to a neighbor’s pickup.

McMaster estimated the flood damage in South Carolina at $1.2 billion. In a letter, the governor said the flooding would be the worst disaster in the state’s modern history. He asked congressional leaders to hurry federal aid.

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North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said that he knows the damage in his state will add up to billions of dollars, but that with the effects of the storm still being felt, there was no way to make a more accurate estimate.

As environmental worries mount, Duke Energy, the region’s main utility, said a dam containing a large lake at a Wilmington power plant had been breached by floodwaters, and it was possible that coal ash from an adjacent dump was flowing into the Cape Fear River.

Paige Sheehan, a spokeswoman for Duke Energy, said the company did notbelieve the breach at the L.V. Sutton Power Station posed a significant threat for increased flooding to nearby communities because the river is already running high.

Something else could be a problem, though.

The National Hurricane Center said it was monitoring four areas in the Atlantic for signs of a new tropical weather threat. One was off the coast of the Carolinas with a chance of drifting toward land.

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