Social media reveals damage from Florence’s record-breaking rainfall

WASHINGTON — Days after Florence’s landfall in North Carolina, water is shaping up to be the storm’s deadliest impact — and the rains will only keep coming as flood damage mounts.

Images on social media showed families being boated out of flooded neighborhoods, houses and vehicles crushed by debris and yachts adrift in the streets. Officials fear the death toll will only rise as the storm parks itself in the same place for days.

The National Weather Service warned of “life-threatening, catastrophic flash floods” as a staggering 18 trillion gallons of rain could be dumped on the Mid-Atlantic through next week, enough to cover the entire state of Texas with nearly 4 inches of water. By Saturday afternoon, Swansboro, North Carolina, had recorded over 30 inches of rain — and at least another foot was in the forecast.

In North Carolina, the city of New Bern was particularly hard hit. Rescue crews used boats to carry more than 360 people from rising water, while many of their neighbors awaited help. Dozens more were pulled from a collapsed motel.

Volunteer rescue teams from across the country joined emergency responders in rescuing families trapped by the floodwaters. The Cajun Navy, a Louisiana-based group of private boat owners whose role proved pivotal in Texas during Hurricane Harvey, had rescued more than 150 people by Friday alone.

Torn free of their moorings by waves and wind, several boats drifted inland among residential neighborhoods:

With tropical storm-force winds swirling 350 miles wide, Florence took down trees, power lines and damaged buildings. Wilmington, North Carolina saw a wind gust of 105 miles per hour, its highest in 60 years.

In Fayetteville and Wilmington, officials said more evacuations were possible as the Cape Fear River continues to rise above record heights. The river is forecast to crest more than three feet above its previous record set during Hurricane Matthew in 2016, when much of the same area experienced devastating floods.

In Jacksonville, a relentless band of heavy rain gutted buildings, drenched streets and left wildlife to battle the rising waters. As of Saturday morning, a large swath of the Carolinas were still seeing up to 2 inches of rainfall every hour, and relief might not come for days.

Low-lying coastal areas saw storm surges overtaking dune barriers. Storm surges — the bulge of ocean water pushed ashore by the hurricane — were as high as 10 feet, backing up onto rivers already swollen by nearly two feet of rain. As the hurricane began to push ashore, storm chasers saw sea water pouring into houses along the shore:

Water rescues were continuing on Saturday. New Bern assured its residents that additional resources were on their way, including from out of state. First responders from Maryland were among several teams from across the country joining the effort:

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Alejandro Alvarez

Alejandro Alvarez joined WTOP as a digital journalist and editor in June 2018. He is a reporter and photographer focusing on politics, political activism and international affairs.

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