Flooding fears surge as rivers rise; Wilmington cut off

FILE - In this Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 12, 2018 file photo provided by DroneBase, an aerial view of the Cape Fear River, N.C., in Buckhorn, N.C. is shown ahead of Hurricane Florence. Record flooding is expected on North Carolina's Cape Fear River in the coming week, and signs of the coming flood are already apparent. The Cape Fear River is predicted to crest at 62 feet (nearly 19 meters) in Fayetteville on Tuesday, Sept. 18. (DroneBase via AP, File)
FILE – In this Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 12, 2018 file photo provided by DroneBase, an aerial view of the Cape Fear River, N.C., in Buckhorn, N.C. is shown ahead of Hurricane Florence. Record flooding is expected on North Carolina’s Cape Fear River in the coming week, and signs of the coming flood are already apparent. The Cape Fear River is predicted to crest at 62 feet (nearly 19 meters) in Fayetteville on Tuesday, Sept. 18. (DroneBase via AP, File) (AP)
Tom Roberts
In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 photo, Manager Tom Roberts watches as an employee positions a pallet of mulch to protect the Ace Hardware store from Hurricane Florence in Calabash, N.C. Roberts still had supplies like bottled water, but went ahead and closed so his employees could prepare their homes. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins) (AP)
Rain-soaked furniture store workers load boxes into a truck, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Fayetteville, N.C., less than a mile from the Cape Fear River, which is set to crest at 62 feet early Tuesday. When John Rose who owns a furniture business heard about possible flooding, he quickly moved to have a crew empty more than 1,000 mattresses from a warehouse located in a low-lying strip mall threatened by the coming surge of water.  (AP Photo/Alex Derosier)
Rain-soaked furniture store workers load boxes into a truck, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Fayetteville, N.C., less than a mile from the Cape Fear River, which is set to crest at 62 feet early Tuesday. When John Rose who owns a furniture business heard about possible flooding, he quickly moved to have a crew empty more than 1,000 mattresses from a warehouse located in a low-lying strip mall threatened by the coming surge of water. (AP Photo/Alex Derosier) (AP/Alex Derosier)
FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 file photo, people line up outside a Home Depot for a new supply of generators and plywood in advance of Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, N.C. "It's a year-round thing for us," said Margaret Smith, spokeswoman for Atlanta-based Home Depot. "When it's hurricane season, we are operating 24 hours a day." (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)
FILE – In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 file photo, people line up outside a Home Depot for a new supply of generators and plywood in advance of Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, N.C. “It’s a year-round thing for us,” said Margaret Smith, spokeswoman for Atlanta-based Home Depot. “When it’s hurricane season, we are operating 24 hours a day.” (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File) (AP/Chuck Burton)
FILE - In this Monday, Sept. 10, 2018 file photo, Jim Craig, David Burke and Chris Rayner load generators as people buy supplies at The Home Depot in Wilmington, N.C. "It's a year-round thing for us," said Margaret Smith, spokeswoman for Atlanta-based Home Depot. "When it's hurricane season, we are operating 24 hours a day." (Ken Blevins/The Star-News via AP, File)
FILE – In this Monday, Sept. 10, 2018 file photo, Jim Craig, David Burke and Chris Rayner load generators as people buy supplies at The Home Depot in Wilmington, N.C. “It’s a year-round thing for us,” said Margaret Smith, spokeswoman for Atlanta-based Home Depot. “When it’s hurricane season, we are operating 24 hours a day.” (Ken Blevins/The Star-News via AP, File) (AP/Ken Blevins)
FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018 file photo, a man jogs down the boardwalk by the Cape Fear River in downtown Wilmington, N.C., as Hurricane Florence threatens the coast. Record flooding is expected on Cape Fear River in the coming week, and signs of the coming flood are already apparent. The Cape Fear River is predicted to crest at 62 feet (nearly 19 meters) in Fayetteville on Tuesday, Sept. 18. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)
FILE – In this Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018 file photo, a man jogs down the boardwalk by the Cape Fear River in downtown Wilmington, N.C., as Hurricane Florence threatens the coast. Record flooding is expected on Cape Fear River in the coming week, and signs of the coming flood are already apparent. The Cape Fear River is predicted to crest at 62 feet (nearly 19 meters) in Fayetteville on Tuesday, Sept. 18. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File) (AP/Chuck Burton)
FILE - This Feb. 19, 2014 file photo, shows the L.V. Sutton Complex operated by Duke Energy just outside of Wilmington, N.C. Duke Energy says heavy rains from Florence have caused a slope to collapse at a coal ash landfill at a closed power station near the North Carolina coast. Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said Saturday night, Sept. 15, 2018, that about 2,000 cubic yards of ash have been displaced at the L. V. Sutton Power Station. (AP Photo/Randall Hill, File)
FILE – This Feb. 19, 2014 file photo, shows the L.V. Sutton Complex operated by Duke Energy just outside of Wilmington, N.C. Duke Energy says heavy rains from Florence have caused a slope to collapse at a coal ash landfill at a closed power station near the North Carolina coast. Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said Saturday night, Sept. 15, 2018, that about 2,000 cubic yards of ash have been displaced at the L. V. Sutton Power Station. (AP Photo/Randall Hill, File) (AP/Randall Hill)
People cross a downtown street in Columbia, S.C. as the remnants of Hurricane Florence slowly move across the East Coast Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
People cross a downtown street in Columbia, S.C. as the remnants of Hurricane Florence slowly move across the East Coast Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford) (AP/Sean Rayford)
A young man carries bottles of wine down the sidewalk as the remnants of Hurricane Florence slowly move across the East Coast Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
A young man carries bottles of wine down the sidewalk as the remnants of Hurricane Florence slowly move across the East Coast Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford) (AP/Sean Rayford)
A closed sign hangs from the front door of the Blue Flour bakery on Main St. in Columbia, S.C. as the remnants of Hurricane Florence slowly move across the East Coast Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
A closed sign hangs from the front door of the Blue Flour bakery on Main St. in Columbia, S.C. as the remnants of Hurricane Florence slowly move across the East Coast Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford) (AP/Sean Rayford)
FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 file photo, Joe Gore, left, and Joshua Adcock prepare for Hurricane Florence as they board up windows on a home in Emerald Isle N.C. Before and after a hurricane, Ace is the place. And Home Depot, Lowe’s, and many other hardware and building supply outlets. Not surprisingly, these companies plan for storms such as Hurricane Florence all year.  (AP Photo/Tom Copeland, File)
FILE – In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 file photo, Joe Gore, left, and Joshua Adcock prepare for Hurricane Florence as they board up windows on a home in Emerald Isle N.C. Before and after a hurricane, Ace is the place. And Home Depot, Lowe’s, and many other hardware and building supply outlets. Not surprisingly, these companies plan for storms such as Hurricane Florence all year. (AP Photo/Tom Copeland, File) (AP/Tom Copeland)
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FILE - In this Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 12, 2018 file photo provided by DroneBase, an aerial view of the Cape Fear River, N.C., in Buckhorn, N.C. is shown ahead of Hurricane Florence. Record flooding is expected on North Carolina's Cape Fear River in the coming week, and signs of the coming flood are already apparent. The Cape Fear River is predicted to crest at 62 feet (nearly 19 meters) in Fayetteville on Tuesday, Sept. 18. (DroneBase via AP, File)
Tom Roberts
Rain-soaked furniture store workers load boxes into a truck, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Fayetteville, N.C., less than a mile from the Cape Fear River, which is set to crest at 62 feet early Tuesday. When John Rose who owns a furniture business heard about possible flooding, he quickly moved to have a crew empty more than 1,000 mattresses from a warehouse located in a low-lying strip mall threatened by the coming surge of water.  (AP Photo/Alex Derosier)
FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 file photo, people line up outside a Home Depot for a new supply of generators and plywood in advance of Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, N.C. "It's a year-round thing for us," said Margaret Smith, spokeswoman for Atlanta-based Home Depot. "When it's hurricane season, we are operating 24 hours a day." (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)
FILE - In this Monday, Sept. 10, 2018 file photo, Jim Craig, David Burke and Chris Rayner load generators as people buy supplies at The Home Depot in Wilmington, N.C. "It's a year-round thing for us," said Margaret Smith, spokeswoman for Atlanta-based Home Depot. "When it's hurricane season, we are operating 24 hours a day." (Ken Blevins/The Star-News via AP, File)
FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018 file photo, a man jogs down the boardwalk by the Cape Fear River in downtown Wilmington, N.C., as Hurricane Florence threatens the coast. Record flooding is expected on Cape Fear River in the coming week, and signs of the coming flood are already apparent. The Cape Fear River is predicted to crest at 62 feet (nearly 19 meters) in Fayetteville on Tuesday, Sept. 18. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)
FILE - This Feb. 19, 2014 file photo, shows the L.V. Sutton Complex operated by Duke Energy just outside of Wilmington, N.C. Duke Energy says heavy rains from Florence have caused a slope to collapse at a coal ash landfill at a closed power station near the North Carolina coast. Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said Saturday night, Sept. 15, 2018, that about 2,000 cubic yards of ash have been displaced at the L. V. Sutton Power Station. (AP Photo/Randall Hill, File)
People cross a downtown street in Columbia, S.C. as the remnants of Hurricane Florence slowly move across the East Coast Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
A young man carries bottles of wine down the sidewalk as the remnants of Hurricane Florence slowly move across the East Coast Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
A closed sign hangs from the front door of the Blue Flour bakery on Main St. in Columbia, S.C. as the remnants of Hurricane Florence slowly move across the East Coast Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 file photo, Joe Gore, left, and Joshua Adcock prepare for Hurricane Florence as they board up windows on a home in Emerald Isle N.C. Before and after a hurricane, Ace is the place. And Home Depot, Lowe’s, and many other hardware and building supply outlets. Not surprisingly, these companies plan for storms such as Hurricane Florence all year.  (AP Photo/Tom Copeland, File)

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — Catastrophic flooding from Florence spread across the Carolinas on Sunday, with roads to Wilmington cut off by the epic deluge and muddy river water swamping entire neighborhoods miles inland. “The risk to life is rising with the angry waters,” Gov. Roy Cooper declared as the storm’s death toll climbed to 17.

The storm continued to crawl westward, dumping more than 30 inches (75 centimeters) of rain in spots since Friday, and fears of historic flooding grew. Tens of thousands were ordered evacuated from communities along the state’s steadily rising rivers — with the Cape Fear, Little River, Lumber, Waccamaw and Pee Dee rivers all projected to burst their banks.

In Wilmington , with roads leading in and out of the city underwater and streams still swelling upward, residents waited for hours outside stores and restaurants for basic necessities like water. Police guarded the door of one store, and only 10 people were allowed inside at a time.

Woody White, chairman of the board of commissioners of New Hanover County, said officials were planning for food and water to be flown into the coastal city of nearly 120,000 people.

“Our roads are flooded,” he said. “There is no access to Wilmington.”

About 70 miles (115 kilometers) away from the coast, residents near the Lumber River stepped from their homes directly into boats floating in their front yards; river forecasts showed the scene could be repeated in towns as far as 250 miles (400 kilometers) inland as waters rise for days.

Downgraded overnight to a tropical depression, Florence was still massive. But with radar showing parts of the storm over six Southeastern states and flood worries spreading into southern Virginia and West Virginia, North and South Carolina were still in the bull’s-eye.

Half way around the world, meanwhile, Typhoon Mangkhut barreled into southern China on Sunday after lashing the Philippines with strong winds and heavy rain that left dozens dead. More than 2.4 million people were evacuated from China’s southern Guangdong province ahead of the massive typhoon, the strongest to hit the region in nearly two decades.

In North Carolina, fears of what could be the worst flooding in the state’s history led officials to order tens of thousands to evacuate, though it wasn’t clear how many had fled or even could. The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, said officials were focused on finding people and rescuing them.

“We’ll get through this. It’ll be ugly, but we’ll get through it,” Long told NBC’s “Meet The Press.”

President Donald Trump said federal emergency workers, first responders and law enforcement officials were “working really hard.” As the storm “begins to finally recede, they will kick into an even higher gear. Very Professional!” he declared in a tweet.

The storm’s death toll climbed to at least 17 when a 3-month-old child was killed when a tree fell across a mobile home in North Carolina. Earlier, officials said three people died in separate, weather-related traffic accidents in South Carolina.

Victor Merlos was overjoyed to find a store open for business in Wilmington since he had about 20 relatives staying at his apartment, which still had power. He spent more than $500 on cereal, eggs, soft drinks and other necessities, plus beer.

“I have everything I need for my whole family,” said Merlos. Nearby, a Waffle House restaurant limited breakfast customers to one biscuit and one drink, all take-out, with the price of $2 per item.

Kenneth Campbell had donned waterproof waders intending to check out his home in Lumberton , but he didn’t bother when he saw the Coast Guard and murky waters in his neighborhood.

“I’m not going to waste my time. I already know,” he said.

As rivers swelled, state regulators and environmental groups were monitoring the threat from gigantic hog and poultry farms located in low-lying, flood-prone areas.

The industrial-scale farms contain vast pits of animal feces and urine that can pose a significant pollution threat if they are breached or inundated by floodwaters. In past hurricanes, flooding at dozens of farms also left hundreds of thousands of dead hogs, chickens and other decomposing livestock bobbing in floodwaters.

Stream gauges across the region showed water levels rising steadily, with forecasts calling for rivers to crest Sunday and Monday at or near record levels. The Defense Department said about 13,500 military personnel had been assigned to help relief efforts.

Authorities ordered the immediate evacuation of up to 7,500 people living within a mile (1.6 kilometers) of a stretch of the Cape Fear River and the Little River, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the North Carolina coast. The evacuation zone included part of the city of Fayetteville, population 200,000.

John Rose owns a furniture business with stores less than a mile (1.6 kilometers) from the river. Rain-soaked furniture workers helped him quickly empty more than 1,000 mattresses from a warehouse in a low-lying strip mall.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever had to move anything like this,” Rose said. “If the river rises to the level they say it’s going to, then this warehouse is going to be under water.”

Fayetteville city officials, meanwhile, got help from the Nebraska Task Force One search and rescue team to evacuate 140 residents of an assisted-living facility to a safer location at a church.

Rainfall totals were stunning.

In Swansboro, North Carolina, nearly 34 inches (85 centimeters) of rain had fallen by Sunday afternoon and 20 other places in North Carolina had at least 20 inches, according to the National Weather Service. Another 30 sites in North and Carolina had at least 10 inches (25 centimeters).

Water on the Cape Fear River near Chinquapin got so high that electronic instruments used to monitor flooding quit working after it became submerged, the U.S. Geological Survey said. The same thing happened on the Trent River.

Still, there was some good news: Power outages in the Carolinas and Virginia were down to about 580,000 homes and businesses after reaching a high of about 910,000 as the hurricane plowed into the coast. Utilities said some outages could last for weeks.

In Goldsboro, North Carolina, home of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, roads that frequently flood were already closed Saturday by rushing water. Dozens of electric repair trucks massed to respond to damage expected to hit central North Carolina as rainwater collected into rivers headed to the coast.

Duke Energy said heavy rains caused a slope to collapse at a coal ash landfill at a closed power station outside Wilmington late Saturday, but there was no indication contamination had drained into the nearby Cape Fear River. The company initially estimated that about 2,000 cubic yards (1,530 cubic meters) of ash were displaced at the landfill, enough to fill about 180 dump trucks. Sheehan said that estimate could be revised.

Near the flooded-out town of New Bern , where about 455 people had to be rescued from the swirling flood waters, water completely surrounded churches, businesses and homes. In the neighboring town of Trenton, downtown streets were turned to creeks full of brown water.

The rain was unrelenting in Cheraw, a town of about 6,000 people in northeastern South Carolina. Streets flooded and Police Chief Keith Thomas warned people not to drive, but the local food and gas store had customers.

“As you can tell, they’re not listening to me,” he said.

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Associated Press writers Alex Derosier in Fayetteville, North Carolina; Jonathan Drew in Wilmington, North Carolina; Allen G. Breed and Emery P. Dalesio in New Bern, North Carolina; Denise Lavoie and Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Virginia; Gary Robertson and Martha Waggoner in Raleigh, North Carolina; Meg Kinnard and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina; Russ Bynum in Cheraw, South Carolina; Seth Borenstein and Michael Biesecker in Washington; Lolita C. Baldor at the Pentagon; Jennifer Kay in Miami; and Jay Reeves in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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For the latest on Hurricane Florence, visit https://www.apnews.com/tag/Hurricanes

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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