Florence death toll climbs to 37; Trump visits stricken area

Dianna Wood, Lynn Wood
Dianna Wood, embraces her husband Lynn, as they look out over their flooded property as the Little River continues to rise in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Linden, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. “I’m still hopeful,” said Lynn about his home which currently has water up to the front step. “In another foot, I’ll be heartbroken,” he added. (AP Photo/David Goldman) (AP/David Goldman)
Vehicles are backed up along N.C. Highway 301 while attempting to navigate to Lumberton, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018 following flooding and road closures resulting from Hurricane Florence. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Vehicles are backed up along N.C. Highway 301 while attempting to navigate to Lumberton, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018 following flooding and road closures resulting from Hurricane Florence. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome) (AP/Gerry Broome)
STARNEWS
Blockade Runner Beach Resort concierge Rodney Vanek lays out rugs to dry in front of the hotel in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. The hotel had water in some of the rooms from Hurricane Florence. (Matt Born/The Star-News via AP) (AP/Matt Born)
Kenny Babb
Kenny Babb retrieves a paddle that floated away on his flooded property as the Little River continues to rise in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Linden, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/David Goldman) (AP/David Goldman)
A member of the Civil Air Patrol brings in pallets of MREs and water to hand out at a distribution area in Wilmington, N.C. Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
A member of the Civil Air Patrol brings in pallets of MREs and water to hand out at a distribution area in Wilmington, N.C. Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton) (AP/Chuck Burton)
Customers line up outside Rose Ice and Coal Co. to purchase bags of ice in Wilmington, N.C. Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Customers line up outside Rose Ice and Coal Co. to purchase bags of ice in Wilmington, N.C. Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton) (AP/Chuck Burton)
Members of the Civil Air Patrol load cars with MREs, water and tarps at distribution area in Wilmington, N.C. Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Members of the Civil Air Patrol load cars with MREs, water and tarps at distribution area in Wilmington, N.C. Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton) (AP/Chuck Burton)
Members of the Civil Air Patrol load cars with MREs, (Meals Ready To Eat) water and tarps at distribution area in Wilmington, N.C. Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Members of the Civil Air Patrol load cars with MREs, (Meals Ready To Eat) water and tarps at distribution area in Wilmington, N.C. Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton) (AP/Chuck Burton)
People wait for a distribution area to open and hand out MREs, water and tarps in Wilmington, N.C. Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
People wait for a distribution area to open and hand out MREs, water and tarps in Wilmington, N.C. Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton) (AP/Chuck Burton)
People walk away after receiving MREs, (Meals Ready To Eat) water and tarps at distribution area in Wilmington, N.C. Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
People walk away after receiving MREs, (Meals Ready To Eat) water and tarps at distribution area in Wilmington, N.C. Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton) (AP/Chuck Burton)
Jack Thompson
A member of the Civil Air Patrol helps Jack Thompson, right, with a carton of MREs (Meals Ready To Eat) water and tarps at distribution area in Wilmington, N.C. Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton) (AP/Chuck Burton)
Luke Humprhrey, Catherine Riggs
Catherine Riggs, holds her grandson Luke Humphrey as she listens to a briefing aboard a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter in Burgaw , N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. The family was rescued by the crew and taken to a shelter in Wilmington. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) (AP/Steve Helber)
From left, Mike Haddock, 48, Katlyn Humphrey, 19, Michelle Haddock, 45, and Justin Humphrey, 24, remove possessions from the Haddock's flooded home using a jon boat Monday, Sept. 17, 2018 in Trenton, N.C. following Hurricane Florence. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP)
From left, Mike Haddock, 48, Katlyn Humphrey, 19, Michelle Haddock, 45, and Justin Humphrey, 24, remove possessions from the Haddock’s flooded home using a jon boat Monday, Sept. 17, 2018 in Trenton, N.C. following Hurricane Florence. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP) (AP/Travis Long)
A couple walks with their daughter after checking on their flooded home in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Spring Lake, N.C., Monday, Sept. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A couple walks with their daughter after checking on their flooded home in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Spring Lake, N.C., Monday, Sept. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/David Goldman) (AP/David Goldman)
Floodwaters inundate homes after Florence struck the Carolinas, Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, in Conway, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
Floodwaters inundate homes after Florence struck the Carolinas, Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, in Conway, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford) (AP/Sean Rayford)
People use a road as a boat ramp after Hurricane Florence struck the Carolinas Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, in Conway, S.C. Many rivers in the Carolinas are approaching record flood stages and their levels will continue to rise through the week. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
People use a road as a boat ramp after Hurricane Florence struck the Carolinas Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, in Conway, S.C. Many rivers in the Carolinas are approaching record flood stages and their levels will continue to rise through the week. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford) (AP/Sean Rayford)
Floodwaters inundate a church after Hurricane Florence struck the Carolinas Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, in Conway, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
Floodwaters inundate a church after Hurricane Florence struck the Carolinas Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, in Conway, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford) (AP/Sean Rayford)
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Dianna Wood, Lynn Wood
Vehicles are backed up along N.C. Highway 301 while attempting to navigate to Lumberton, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018 following flooding and road closures resulting from Hurricane Florence. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
STARNEWS
Kenny Babb
A member of the Civil Air Patrol brings in pallets of MREs and water to hand out at a distribution area in Wilmington, N.C. Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Customers line up outside Rose Ice and Coal Co. to purchase bags of ice in Wilmington, N.C. Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Members of the Civil Air Patrol load cars with MREs, water and tarps at distribution area in Wilmington, N.C. Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Members of the Civil Air Patrol load cars with MREs, (Meals Ready To Eat) water and tarps at distribution area in Wilmington, N.C. Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
People wait for a distribution area to open and hand out MREs, water and tarps in Wilmington, N.C. Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
People walk away after receiving MREs, (Meals Ready To Eat) water and tarps at distribution area in Wilmington, N.C. Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Jack Thompson
Luke Humprhrey, Catherine Riggs
From left, Mike Haddock, 48, Katlyn Humphrey, 19, Michelle Haddock, 45, and Justin Humphrey, 24, remove possessions from the Haddock's flooded home using a jon boat Monday, Sept. 17, 2018 in Trenton, N.C. following Hurricane Florence. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP)
A couple walks with their daughter after checking on their flooded home in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Spring Lake, N.C., Monday, Sept. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Floodwaters inundate homes after Florence struck the Carolinas, Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, in Conway, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
People use a road as a boat ramp after Hurricane Florence struck the Carolinas Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, in Conway, S.C. Many rivers in the Carolinas are approaching record flood stages and their levels will continue to rise through the week. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
Floodwaters inundate a church after Hurricane Florence struck the Carolinas Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, in Conway, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — The death toll from Hurricane Florence climbed to at least 37, including two women who drowned when a sheriff’s van taking them to a mental health facility was swept away by floodwaters, and North Carolina’s governor pleaded with thousands of evacuees not to return home just yet.

President Donald Trump, meanwhile, arrived in storm-ravaged North Carolina on Wednesday and helped volunteers at a church in the hard-hit coastal town of New Bern.

“How’s the house?” Trump was heard asking one person as distributed plastic foam containers of food, including hot dogs, chips and fruit. “You take care of yourself.”

Wilmington, population 120,000, was still mostly an island surrounded by floodwaters, and people waited for hours Tuesday for handouts of food, water and tarps. Thousands of others around the state waited in shelters for the all-clear.

“I know it was hard to leave home, and it is even harder to wait and wonder whether you even have a home to go back to,” Gov. Roy Cooper said.

After submerging North Carolina with nearly 3 feet (1 meter) of rain, the storm dumped more than 6.5 inches (16.5 centimeters) of rain in the Northeast, where it caused flash flooding.

Cooper warned that the flooding is far from over and will get worse in places.

“I know for many people this feels like a nightmare that just won’t end,” he said.

Addressing roughly 10,000 people who remain in shelters and “countless more” staying elsewhere, Cooper urged them to stay put for now, particularly those from the hardest-hit coastal counties that include Wilmington, near where Florence blew ashore on Friday.

Roads remain treacherous, he said, and some are still being closed for the first time as rivers swelled by torrential rains inland drain toward the Atlantic.

At least 27 of the deaths happened in North Carolina.

In South Carolina, two women died on Tuesday evening when floodwaters from the Little Pee Dee River engulfed the van taking them to a mental health facility, authorities said.

The risk of environmental damage mounted, as human and animal waste was washed into the swirling floodwaters.

More than 5 million gallons (18 million liters) of partially treated sewage spilled into the Cape Fear River after power went out at a treatment plant, officials said, and the earthen dam of a pond holding hog waste was breached, spilling its contents. The flooding killed an estimated 3.4 million chickens and 5,500 hogs on farms.

In Wilmington on Tuesday, workers began handing out supplies using a system resembling a giant fast-food drive-thru: Drivers pulled up to a line of pallets, placed an order and left without having to get out. A woman blew a whistle each time drivers had to pull forward.

Todd Tremain needed tarps to cover up spots where Florence’s winds ripped shingles off his roof. Others got a case of bottled water or military MREs, or field rations. An olive-drab military forklift moved around huge pallets loaded with supplies.

Brandon Echavarrieta struggled to stay composed as he described life post-Florence: no power for days, rotted meat in the freezer, no water or food and just one bath in a week.

“It’s been pretty bad,” said Echavarrieta, 34, his voice breaking.

About 3,500 vehicles came through for supplies on the first day they were available, county officials said in a Facebook post.

Supplies have been brought into the city by big military trucks and helicopters,

At Fayetteville, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) inland, near the Army’s sprawling Fort Bragg, flooding from Cape Fear River got so bad that authorities closed a vehicle bridge after the water began touching girders supporting the span’s top deck.

Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin said it was unclear if the bridge was threatened.

“We’ve never had it at those levels before, so we don’t really know what the impact will be just yet,” he said.

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Waggoner reported from Raleigh, North Carolina. AP photographer Gerry Broome in Lumberton, North Carolina; Gary Robertson in Raleigh; Alex Derosier in Fayetteville, North Carolina; and Jay Reeves in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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Follow Martha Waggoner on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc

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

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This story has been corrected to show the death toll in North Carolina is 27, not 29.

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

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