Carolinas' crisis escalates as Florence shows its fiercest face

Volunteers help rescue residents

They included three who died "due to flash flooding and swift water on roadways", the Duplin County Sheriff's Office reported.

CORRECTING TYPO IN CITY NAME Vechicles are seen as members of the U.S. Army rescue people during the passing of Hurricane Florence in the town of New Bern, North Carolina, U.S. September 14, 2018.

The hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm on Friday with wind speeds dropping to 50 miles per hour by 5 a.m. Saturday, but fierce rains were likely to produce "catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding", the National Hurricane Center said.

Heavy rains bands are still coming onshore in eastern SC and North Carolina on Sunday morning.

Long said more havoc lays ahead as the storm broadens its geographic scope over regions deeply saturated with water.

In a tweet, the National Weather Service warned, "The flooding WILL GET WORSE in many locations across SC, NC and VA. River levels will continue to rise today and early this week. More and more inland counties are issuing mandatory evacuations to get people to safety quickly".

Total accumulated rainfall there could end up as high as 40 inches.

"Not only are you going to see more impact across North Carolina. but we're also anticipating you are about to see a lot of damage going through West Virginia, all the way up to OH as the system exits out", Brock Long of the country's Federal Emergency Management Agency said Sunday on Fox News. "Nothing I ever experienced before, I was truly scared", he told AFP. Mayor Dana Outlaw said the city, hit by a three-meter storm surge at the height of the storm on Friday, has 4,200 damaged homes.

The doors of many homes suffered so much wind damage they appeared to have been kicked in, while the city's beloved fiber-glass bear statues, which are sponsored by local businesses, were floating down streets.




At 11am, Florence was centered about 65km west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, inching west at four km/h - not even as fast as a person can walk.

"Epic" amounts of rain are expected to continue to deluge North Carolina on Sunday, downing trees and causing rivers to overflow in areas already inundated by Florence.

The major highways into the area, Interstate 40 and USA 74, were not accessible, officials said.

Across North Carolina, 26,000 people were being housed in 157 shelters after escaping their homes in advance of the flood waters.

While dealing with Florence in the Carolinas, the Trump administration's disaster relief chief found himself talking on Sunday news shows about the death toll in Puerto Rico from last year's Hurricane Maria, which President Donald Trump loudly disputed on Twitter.

The volunteer United Cajun Navy rescue group says it was helping in Leland, where about 200 people have made calls for help, after it made numerous rescues in Wilmington.

Tornadoes remain a threat, with the NHC saying that "a few tornadoes are possible in southeastern North Carolina and northeastern SC".

"Flood waters are still raging across parts of our state, and the risk to life is rising with the angry waters", said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper on Sunday.

"I'm not going to waste my time".

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