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U.S. Army personnel unload food and water from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter for a community isolated by the effects of Hurricane Florence, now downgraded to a tropical depression, in Atkinson, North Carolina, on Sept. 18. Photo by Jonathan Drake/Reuters

Unending disaster: Florence floods prompt new evacuations

GALIVANTS FERRY, S.C. — With muddy river water still washing over entire communities on Friday, eight days after Hurricane Florence slammed into land with nearly 3 feet of rain, new evacuation orders forced residents to flee to higher ground amid a sprawling disaster that’s beginning to feel like it will never end.

At least 42 people have died, included an elderly man whose body was found in a pickup truck that had been submerged in South Carolina, and hundreds were forced from their homes as rivers kept swelling higher and higher.

Leaders in the Carolinas warned residents not to get complacent as it became plain that additional horrors lie ahead before things get much better.

“Although the winds are gone and the rain is not falling, the water is still there and the worst is still to come,” said South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster.

Speaking in Las Vegas, President Donald Trump said South Carolina is in for a “tough one” as flood waters continue to rise.

“They got hit, but the big hit comes days later and it will be the biggest they’ve ever had,” said Trump, who visited North and South Carolina this week.

While most peoples’ lights are back on in the Carolinas and Virginia and trucks are picking up mountains of storm debris in many areas, water draining toward the sea from inland areas is sending rivers over their banks across a wide region.

Rescuers wearing night-vision googles used helicopters, boats and big-wheeled military vehicles overnight to evacuate about 100 people from a southeastern North Carolina county where high water breached a levee and flooded a town.

And in South Carolina, emergency managers ordered about 500 people to flee homes along the Lynches River. The National Weather Service said the river could reach record flood levels late Saturday or early Sunday. Shelters are open.

In tiny Galivants Ferry, Audra Mauer said she lost her home two years ago when Hurricane Matthew hit and she’s losing it again to Florence. No improvements were made to the area after Matthew, she said, and a frustrated Mauer has no faith any will happen now.

“They didn’t clean the ditches,” she said. “Same levee. Same dams. What have we been doing for two years? … Where did the money go to fix everything, to make the power lines stronger and to replace the poles?”

About 25 miles (40 kilometers) nearer to the South Carolina coast, Kevin Tovornik was tearing soggy carpet out of the house he has owned for 20 years in Conway, where the Waccamaw River was still rising. Bridges are starting to close because of flooding, he said, and friends were struck in traffic for four hours trying to get through the town of 23,000 people.

“This is ridiculous. This is the worst I’ve ever seen, and that includes hurricane evacuations,” Tovornik said.

Roads also were a major problem in Wilmington, a city of 120,000 people still mostly cut off from the rest of North Carolina. A photograph posted by the state transportation agency showed flowing water and buckled asphalt on a highway that had been one of the few passable routes into the city, where officials have distributed food and water to residents.

Along the Cape Fear River, David and Benetta White and their four children were given short notice to evacuate overnight when floodwaters came rushing on to their property. By the time they got loaded into their van, water was waist-high and they had to slog through a foul-smelling soup to get to a neighbor’s pickup.

“We almost lost our lives, I’m here to tell you we did,” said White, whose family previously evacuated last Thursday as Florence approached as a hurricane from the Atlantic.

The South Carolina governor estimated damage from the flood in his state at $1.2 billion. In a letter he said the flooding will be the worst disaster in the state’s modern history. McMaster asked congressional leaders to hurry federal aid.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said he knows the damage in his state will add up to billions of dollars, but said with the effects on the storm still being felt, there was no way to make a more accurate estimate.

As environmental worries mount, Duke Energy said a dam containing a large lake at Wilmington power plant had been breached by floodwaters from Florence, and it was possible that coal ash from an adjacent dump was flowing into the Cape Fear River.

Paige Sheehan, a spokeswoman for Duke Energy, said the company did not believe the breach at the L.V. Sutton Power Station posed a significant threat for increased flooding to nearby communities because the river is already running high.

Something else could be a problem, though. The National Hurricane Center said it was monitoring four areas in the Atlantic for signs of a new tropical weather threat. One was off the coast of the Carolinas with a chance of drifting toward land.
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Collins reported from Columbia, South Carolina. Associated Press writers Martha Waggoner and Gary D. Robertson in Raleigh; Alan Suderman in Bladenboro, North Carolina, and Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama, contributed to this report.

Jeffrey Collins and Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina; Michael Biesecker in Washington and Jay Reeves in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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