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Fire that killed couple, 86, shows Florence’s broad reach

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — When Florence knocked the power out Friday evening in a leafy, Fayetteville, North Carolina, subdivision, Mary Kennedy checked in with her elderly neighbors by phone to make sure they were OK.

Carl and Patricia Flanagan told Kennedy they were fine and had gotten out lanterns and candles to help see in the dark. Power outages were nothing new in the neighborhood and the Flanagans, both 86, were lively and energetic. Carl was a retired Army officer who volunteered at a museum; Patricia was always taking walks around the neighborhood.

But within 45 minutes of the power going out, Kennedy said, the couple was dead. The house caught fire and Florence’s strong winds fanned the flames despite heavy rains.

“It spread so fast,” Kennedy said.

The Flanagans’ deaths in a neighborhood far from any flood zone are evidence of Florence’s broad and deadly reach . The storm has killed at least 37 people in three states.

Children have been killed in their homes by falling trees, an elderly man was electrocuted in the rain while trying to connect extension cords for a generator and a Virginia man died when a tornado destroyed a flooring store just outside Richmond, an area that forecasters had not previously predicted was in Florence’s path of destruction.

Florence first blew ashore as a hurricane before slowly dumping more than 3 feet (0.91 meters) of rain and inundating city after city in North Carolina and South Carolina. The violent winds that tore down trees last week have given way to quietly rising rivers — all the while continuing to claim lives.

Two mental health patients drowned Tuesday when a van they were riding in was swept away in South Carolina flood waters, while Fayetteville officials say a man drowned late Tuesday after refusing to evacuate from his mobile home.

The Flanagans’ home in Fayetteville sits empty with a giant charred hole in the roof and police tape around the yard. City officials have not yet said what caused the fire.

Kennedy said the deaths have shaken the neighborhood. The Flanagans had lived in their home for decades and served as the area’s “unofficial grandparents.”

“It’s so hard not having them there,” Mary Kennedy said. “It’s a big hole. It’s a big hole.”

Carl volunteered at the Fayetteville’s Airborne and Special Operations Museum and was active in the Kiwanis club. Patricia always took care to ask about people’s families.

Bob Kennedy said the couple would always invite him over for dinner when his wife was out of town to make sure he was eating well.

The couple, he said, was “just a very good example of how to live your life.”

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

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