Weakened Floyd Leaves Legacy of Heavy Flooding, Record Evacuations


After prompting the largest evacuation in U.S. history, Hurricane Floyd turned out to be all wet, sparing the East Coast a calamity but inflicting misery with heavy flooding Thursday, especially in North Carolina.

Downgraded to a tropical storm at 5 p.m. EDT, Floyd was expected to dump 5 to 7 inches of rain on New York City and cross the eastern neck of Long Island overnight with winds of 65 mph before heading toward Cape Cod.

At least seven deaths were blamed on the hurricane, but its chief legacy likely will be the massive scramble to get out of its way, which placed about 2.6 million people under evacuation orders.


President Clinton said that the road-clogging flight from coastal areas was fully justified. As it approached the Bahamas on Monday, Floyd was a Texas-sized storm that packed sustained winds of 155 mph.

“I’m sure there will be those that second-guess this now, because Florida was not hit,” Clinton said. “While we thank goodness that the storm was not as bad as we had feared, I just want to affirm my absolute conviction that the people in the emergency services did the right thing to recommend evacuation.”

The threat of inland flooding from heavy rains remained all the way up the coast to New England on Thursday evening. There were widespread reports of damage to homes and other structures, but officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency had not yet issued a damage estimate.

Downed wires left more than 1 million utility customers, from the Washington suburbs to the coast of the Carolinas, without power. Schools were closed for more than 2 million children in several states, forcing parents to improvise child care arrangements in communities where life did not come to a complete standstill.

Clinton upgraded the emergency in North Carolina by declaring a major disaster, a designation that allows federal aid for communities and individuals to help them rebuild. He also released $528 million for FEMA to provide storm-related assistance along the entire Eastern Seaboard.

More than a foot of rain fell on parts of North Carolina and Virginia’s southeastern Tidewater region, flooding roads and marooning people in small communities. In Virginia, the rains overwhelmed the municipal water system in Portsmouth, a city of 100,000, and the National Guard was called in to truck in drinking water. In North Carolina, a hog farm waste pond ruptured, spilling 2 million gallons of noxious contaminants.


Flooding was a problem up and down Floyd’s track. Many streets were under water in the Hampton Roads area, a cluster of cities that make up Virginia’s second-largest metropolitan region.

But North Carolina seemed to get more than its share of grief. Authorities there predicted that the flooding would increase before the weekend as rainfall washes down from higher elevations.

“I’ve never seen the water as bad as it is,” said Maj. Mark Teachey of the North Carolina National Guard. “The state’s three main rivers are flooded over. We’re talking about an amazing amount of water.”

Interstate 95, known as the Main Street of the East Coast, was closed near the Virginia-North Carolina line because of flooding. Nearly 90 state roadways also had to be closed.

Wilmington, N.C., a small city near where Floyd made landfall, received 13.8 inches of rain on ground that was already saturated. While wind damage was limited, some creeks swelled more than 10 feet over bridges.

“We got the worst part,” said Kevin Garvey, a volunteer firefighter in Hampstead, about 10 miles north of Wilmington.


Near Greenville, N.C., a man was reported to have drowned when his car was trapped in a flash flood. The unidentified driver tried to get out of the vehicle and reach safe ground, but he was swept away as helpless rescuers watched.

The drawbridge linking one North Carolina barrier island to the mainland was knocked out when a 24-foot sailboat got wedged in it.

As the storm moved out, thousands of people rushed home from shelters, where they had spent the night. “Some of them wondered whether they had made a mistake coming here at all, but it was better to be safe than sorry,” said Marlene Sely, a sheriff’s deputy stationed at a shelter in Hanover County, N.C.

Elsewhere, the situation was not as dire.

The Marines shut down their huge Quantico, Va., base south of Washington and prepared teams to assist surrounding communities, if needed. But the phones were not ringing. “We have nothing major to report,” said Capt. Sean Clements, a base spokesman. “We haven’t experienced any high winds. No evacuations. No loss of power. We’re still waiting.”

As the storm swept through the New York metropolitan area, torrents of rain flooded streets and some major highways. In one New Jersey community, the water reached the windshields of fire engines. Utility companies reported more than 281,000 customers were without power.

The Metro-North Commuter Railroad stopped service from Grand Central Terminal during the evening rush hour, stranding passengers.


Broken umbrellas, the twisted victims of wind gusts, littered some Manhattan streets as their former owners received a good soaking.

In Lambertville, N.J., near the Delaware River, some streets were flooded, submerging cars. Rainwater draining from hillsides reached desk-high in the elementary school. Overall in the metropolitan area, the damage was not as severe as many had feared as the hurricane became a tropical storm by late afternoon.

The New York Stock Exchange defied Floyd and remained open all day, but some smaller financial markets closed early. The upper deck of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, which connects Staten Island and Brooklyn, was closed as a precaution against gusting wind.

Many New Yorkers stayed home. New York City let thousands of municipal employees out early, and commuter lines reported about half the normal number of rush-hour riders.

To some, the storm was a sightseeing experience. One young Manhattan mother, dressed with her daughter and son in matching blue slickers, emerged from an apartment building and proclaimed: “We are off on an adventure. We are going to have a hurricane adventure.” They strode away to view the storm-surging East River.

Along the Atlantic beachfront in Queens, people rode bicycles along the boardwalk and watched the pounding surf.


In Washington, federal workers were allowed to take a vacation day. Schools were closed and traffic on downtown streets was light. The storm shut down some attractions but not the White House or Smithsonian museums.

The driving, drenching rain did not stop Californian Eldon McIntire of Monrovia from inspecting the Washington Monument grounds in preparation for the Alpo Canine Frisbee Championships on Saturday.

Accompanied by Falco, a Belgian Malinois, McIntire studied the slope of the terrain and concluded that it should drain nicely in time for the event. “I think it’s going to be OK,” he said. “The dogs don’t seem to mind--it’s the humans who complain.”


Times staff writers Stephen Braun in Wilmington, N.C., and John J. Goldman in New York contributed to this report.