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Natural disasters

Hurricane Florence hits US east coast as rescuers scramble to help people stranded by floods

Many residents have fled their homes, but some are staying to ride out the storm – at least one with ‘beers and video games’

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 September, 2018, 9:31pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 September, 2018, 10:45pm

Hurricane Florence smashed into the US east coast on Friday with howling winds, torrential rains and life-threatening storm surges as emergency crews scrambled to rescue hundreds of people stranded in their homes by flooding.

Forecasters warned of mayhem from the monster storm, which is only Category 1 but physically sprawling and dangerous.

The port city of Wilmington, North Carolina, woke to the sound of exploding electrical transformers with strong gusts throwing street signs and other debris in all directions.

The storm made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, at 7:15am local time, the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said. The centre’s director, Ken Graham, warned the slow pace of the storm exacerbated its danger even to areas outside its immediate path.

“The longer you have this hurricane wind flow, the longer you push that water well inland,” he said.

Rescuers in North Carolina meanwhile were scrambling to save people stranded in their homes. Video footage showed car parks in the riverfront town of New Bern turn into lakes of dirty grey water.

Nearly 300,000 customers in North Carolina were reported to be without power as the outer band of the storm approached, with that number expected to rise.

In an advisory, the centre said Florence was packing winds up to 150km/h (90mph) and moving northwest at 10km/h (6mph).

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It said the greatest threats to life came from storm surges, while “catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding” was expected, with some areas receiving up to 1 metre (40 inches) of rainfall.

In a display of the early effects of the storm, one flood gauge on the Neuse River in New Bern showed three metres (10 feet) of flooding, the NHC said.

“This storm will bring destruction,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned on Thursday. “Catastrophic effects will be felt.”

A tornado watch was also in effect for parts of North Carolina.

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About 1.7 million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia are under voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders and millions of others live in areas likely to be affected by the storm.

The disaster area is expected to get about as much rain in three days as two 1999 storms, Dennis and Floyd, dropped in two weeks.

Myrtle Beach, a South Carolina beach resort, was deserted with empty streets, boarded up shops and very little traffic.

A state of emergency has been declared in five coastal states – North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Maryland and Virginia.

Duke Energy, a power company in the Carolinas, estimated that up to 3 million customers could lose electricity because of the storm and that it could take weeks to restore.

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Not everybody was heeding orders to evacuate, however.

Antonio Ramirez, a builder from El Salvador living in Leland, North Carolina, said he planned to ride out the worst of the weather with his dog, Canelo.

“The shelters are not taking dogs,” Ramirez said. “I’m not leaving him here.”

In Wilmington, residents who decided not to evacuate were lining up to get ice from a vending machine – US$2 for a 7.2kg (16 pound) bag.

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Perched on his porch, carpenter Tony Albright was calmly waiting for Florence’s arrival, beer in hand.

“I built this house myself, so I’m not worried at all, I know it’s solid,” he said. “I charged the batteries of my electronic devices, I have beers and video games.”