WILMINGTON, N.C. (NBC) — Residents of this port city were cut off and bracing for further flooding Monday as Florence, formerly a hurricane and now a tropical depression, continued to dump heavy rain across the region.
More than 40 million people remained under a flash flood watch or warning, with alerts stretching from Charleston, South Carolina, up through New England, parts of which could see downpours from the remnants of Florence by Tuesday morning, forecasters said.
NOTE: Gov. Roy Cooper holds a briefing on Florence. App/mobile users can watch the full news conference at this link.
The storm has been blamed for at least 19 deaths, with the majority of the victims in North Carolina. Authorities in Union County said Monday they recovered the body of a 1-year-old boy who went missing after the car his mother was driving was consumed by floodwaters on a North Carolina highway. She survived but told police she had lost his grip.
Meanwhile, two babies and a mother were killed in separate incidents in Gaston County and Wilmington after trees fell on their homes. A 68-year-old man was electrocuted in Lenoir County on Saturday after plugging in a generator.
With food and water supplies running low, local authorities in New Hanover County, where Wilmington is, appealed for state emergency-management officials for help. Water and military-style field rations known as MREs were due to be delivered around North Carolina on Monday.
On Monday morning, officials will first try to go by land, using routes selected by the state highway patrol, said Jessica Loeper, a New Hanover County spokeswoman.
If flooding makes the roads impassable, then authorities will use airlifts, she said. When the supplies finally reach the county, they’ll be distributed from three locations that will be announced Monday, Loeper said.
Many residents in Wilmington, a city of about 117,000, were trapped at home, hemmed in by downed trees and power lines. Countless homes were damaged and many homeowners who left were unable to get back to evaluate the damage to their property.
The city’s first responders scrambled to keep up with requests for help, with police responding to more than 800 calls on Saturday and Sunday.
County offices were shut until further notice, with the exception of the landfill and county staff who were reassigned to emergency response and recovery efforts.
Wilmington residents got a break from the rain Monday morning, but storms were expected to redevelop in the afternoon and potentially trigger more flash flooding.
With Florence churning across the region, flash flood warnings were in effect across much of North Carolina, as well as in northeast South Carolina and southwest Virginia, according to the National Hurricane Center. It also warned that “catastrophic/historic river flooding will continue” across large areas of the Carolinas.
“Flood waters are raging across our state and the risk to life is rising with the angry waters,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Sunday.
Officials warned people not to drive through floodwaters, even if they appear shallow. With major highways affected by the flooding, the North Carolina Department of Transportation advised drivers not to travel through the state.
Mandatory evacuation orders were in effect in several areas around the region, including Craven County, North Carolina, where the hard-hit town of New Bern is. With further flooding expected, a state of emergency is in effect there until Friday.
“A lot of the creeks around New Bern are increasing by the hour,” New Bern Mayor Dana Outlaw told “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
About 80 miles northwest of Wilmington, floodwaters inundated Lumberton’s downtown and reached more than 3 feet in areas. Temporary levees failed when water spilled from the north side of the Lumber River and coursed onto a local highway.
Dozens of people who were able to navigate through the flooded roads sought refuge at a gas station truck stop and slept overnight in their cars.
Just north in Fayetteville, the Cape Fear River continued to rise and was forecast to crest on Tuesday. More than 1,400 people in the city took refuge in shelters.
Parts of nearby Hoke County, around 20 miles west of Fort Bragg, were also under mandatory evacuation orders due to a potential dam breach.
Officials in North Carolina expect rescue operations to continue for several days. There have been more than 900 water rescues since the storm hit, according to the state’s Department of Public Safety.
More than half a million people were in the dark in North Carolina late Sunday night, according to the Department of Public Safety. Duke Energy said more than 300,000 of its customers remained without power, early Monday. The company said it had restored power to more than 1 million customers across the Carolinas that lost it during the storm.
The storm first made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane early Friday near Wrightsville Beach, northeast of Wilmington.