MIAMI— It’s about the water, not the wind, with Hurricane Florence making an extended stay along the North Carolina coast.
Forecasters say “it cannot be emphasized enough that the most serious hazard associated with slow-moving Florence is extremely heavy rainfall, which will cause disastrous flooding that will be spreading inland.” Top sustained winds made it just a Category 1 hurricane but some communities were already submerged in more than 6 feet (2 meters) of water as the storm drenched the coast.
BY THE NUMBERS
—Big storm: about 400 miles (645 kilometers) wide, with hurricane-force winds stretching across a 140-mile (255-kilometer) span
—Heavy rains: parts of the Carolinas could see 20 inches to 30 inches (50 to 76 centimeters), with isolated areas getting 40 inches (100 centimeters), over seven days along the coast
—Storm surge: up to 13 feet (nearly 4 meters), and seawaters could push inland 2 miles (more than 3 kilometers), depending on how long
—Fatal hazards: historically, 49 percent of U.S. hurricane deaths come from storm surge, 27 percent from rain, 8 percent from wind, 6 percent from surf, 6 percent were offshore and 3 percent from tornadoes
—Intensity: Florence came ashore with top winds of 90 mph (145 kph), below the 111 mph (178 kph) threshold for a “major” hurricane but still extremely dangerous
—In the dark: more than 510,000 outages, mostly in North Carolina, as of Friday morning, with Duke Energy anticipating 1 million to 3 million homes and businesses losing power
—Protected: 12,000 people in shelters in North Carolina, 4,000 in South Carolina and 400 in Virginia
—Populated coastline: 11 million Americans live in areas under storm watches and warnings
—Grounded: nearly 1,200 flights canceled
—Potential losses: estimated $10 billion to $60 billion in economic damages
FACES OF FLORENCE
Images captured by Associated Press journalists show last-minute preparations to secure homes and businesses and families settling into storm shelters as rain and storm surge began to soak the Carolinas.
A massive evacuation is underway in the Philippines, which is being threatened by Typhoon Mangkhut ; the super typhoon’s winds are equivalent to a Category 5 Atlantic hurricane. Elsewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores could get gusty winds and heavy rains from Tropical Storm Helene this weekend, while Isaac was now a tropical depression and weakening in the Caribbean Sea.
If Florence doesn’t wipe out oceanfront homes perched on stilts along the Carolinas coast, rising sea levels will . Florence is hitting low-lying barrier islands that experience some of the fastest rates of sea level rise observed anywhere in the world, nearly an inch (2.5 centimeters) a year.
WHAT TRUMP SAID
George Washington University researchers are standing by their study that found the death toll following Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was 2,975, considerably higher than first thought. President Donald Trump rejected that conclusion Thursday, arguing without evidence that the number was wrong and falsely called it a plot by Democrats to make him “look as bad as possible.” Top Republicans in Florida, where thousands of Puerto Ricans relocated after Maria, quickly said Trump was wrong about the death toll.
TO THE RESCUE
Fast response crews from California, Florida, Oregon, Virginia and New England converged on the Carolinas with inflatable Zodiac boats, all-terrain vehicles and mini-bikes to help with rescues and debris clearing in Florence’s wake. It’s a good thing they were available: about 350 people in New Bern, North Carolina, needed rescue from flooding on the Neuse River, and about 70 people in Jacksonville, North Carolina, had to be moved to safety from a hotel whose structural integrity was threatened by the hurricane.
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
A North Carolina TV station had to evacuate its newsroom in the middle of its hurricane coverage. Hours before Florence made landfall, workers at WCTI-TV NewsChannel 12 abandoned their studio in New Bern, North Carolina, where the National Weather Service measured storm surge 10 feet (3 meters) deep.
The mayor of Hurricane, West Virginia, stepped in to rescue a wedding on North Carolina’s Outer Banks from an uninvited guest:
Florence. As the storm threatened to wash away months of planning , Mayor Scott Edwards offered a unique opportunity to use his city hall for the ceremony. Marsha Bradbury and Jon Gillenwater plan to be wed “in Hurricane during the hurricane” on Sunday.
Mercedes O’Neill was worried about riding out the hurricane in her North Myrtle Beach home. But she’s even more worried about what would happen if she couldn’t quickly get back to work at a Family Dollar store after the storm passes. O’Neill’s family lives paycheck to paycheck, and evacuating isn’t cheap .
AT THE ZOO
About 1,600 animals at the North Carolina Zoo are hunkered down.
Zoo workers moved elephants, giraffes, chimpanzees and hundreds of other species indoors for safety. Some animals, including bison and elk, stayed in fenced-in yards instead of barns because they don’t like being in fully enclosed spaces.
THE POWER OF WATER
Scientists can’t say — yet — that climate change helped make Florence worse. But previous research has shown that the strongest hurricanes are getting wetter, more intense and intensifying faster due to human-caused warming. Sea level rise also adds to storm surge damage : When Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, a study found sea-level rise over the 20th century caused more than $2 billion in additional damage in New York City due to the “extra” storm surge it generated.
ESCAPING TO FLORIDA
Hurricanes usually drive people away from Florida, but Florence is making the Sunshine State into a refuge for people from the Carolinas. Cruise ships have diverted to Florida away from the storm’s path, and some hotels are offering special discounts for evacuees. What could be better than riding out a hurricane at Walt Disney World ?
By JENNIFER KAY, Associated Press