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Wilmington mayor: Significant flooding still to come

The mayor of Wilmington, North Carolina, said Monday that roads coming into the city are still impassable from flooding caused by Florence, and that they expect the river to crest midday on Tuesday. Mayor Bill Saffo talks with William Brangham about efforts to restore power amid record flooding.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return now to the other major story of today, the impact of Hurricane Florence, whose death toll has now reached 21.

    In North Carolina, the rain kept coming today, threatening to cut off roads and bridges in towns, cities and counties for days, maybe even weeks.

    William Brangham continues his reporting, focusing on the city that has been the hardest-hit.

  • William Brangham:

    As we reported earlier, the city of Wilmington is largely cut off from the outside world. Waters have flooded nearly every entrance to the city, stranding most of the city's 120,000 people.

    Earlier this afternoon, I spoke with Wilmington's Mayor, ®MD-BO¯Bill Saffo, to get a sense of how things were going.

  • Bill Saffo:

    We're getting some supplies in here. We're airlifting some medical supplies, and we're airlifting some food supplies in here for the shelters.

    And we have got a truckload that was brought in here using high — trucks that could get through high water. We got 20 trucks in here and bought in some food and some water and some fuel into the area, which is desperately needed at this time.

    The roads coming into the city, into the county are still impassable. We expect the river to crest tomorrow at about midday. And then after the river crests, we feel that we will be able to access some routes into the city.

    But we still have to inspect those roadways to ensure they're stable and they're good to drive over. Power is being reestablished as we speak, but it is spotty in different areas of the city.

  • William Brangham:

    How many residents in Wilmington are still in the dark right now?

  • Bill Saffo:

    I would probably say 80 percent — let's just say 90 percent of the city is still without power.

    But we are slowly getting there. But our main priority, of course, was to establish power to the hospital, make sure that the hospital had power, our police stations, fire stations had power, our emergency operations center had power. So there were our first priorities.

    And then from there is getting power to some of the grocery stores, making certain some of our commercial corridors have some power, so we can get some grocery stores reopened. Obviously, we got people that haven't been able to go to the grocery store for over a week.

    And, of course, trying to get some fuel seems to be one of the main things that we currently right now, because of the people that are — have been running generators have been running generators for quite some time, and they're running out of fuel.

  • William Brangham:

    Mayor, are there active rescues still going on in Wilmington?

  • Bill Saffo:

    I think the vast majority of people that needed to be rescued have been rescued. We're getting a lot of calls from medical calls currently.

    But we will still get the occasional rescue call to, come out here and get me from my house.

    I think what you're going to see in the coming days is a significant amount of flooding in the surrounding areas. We know that each of our rivers that are coming into the Cape Fear, all of those rivers are going to experience record flood stages.

  • William Brangham:

    I know there's a curfew currently in Wilmington right now. What is your message to residents? What have you been telling them about hanging on?

  • Bill Saffo:

    The first thing we're telling is, we had a lot of people that evacuated the area, heeded the warnings of the emergency management officials and left the area.

    Obviously, we have a lot of those folks that want to come back to their homes, get back to the city, check on their property. And we're telling them, don't come until you have heard from us whether the roads are passable.

    There's no need to even try, because you're going to be turned — turned away by the highway patrol. That's number one.

    Number two, we're telling our citizens, for the most part, stay on your property. Stay at your home, if possible. I know a lot of people are getting a little stir crazy at this point in time, because they haven't been out and about for days. But just please stay put until we can get these roadways cleared of debris and it's safe for you to go out and walk around, because we have got a lot of power lines that are entangled with a lot of the debris in our — in our neighborhoods.

    And what has happened is, we're coming across some wires that are hot. And we don't want anybody to get hurt or electrocuted. You know, what we found historically is that we lose a lot of life during hurricanes after the event passes.

    And so I caution folks that, when you are getting out in your community or getting out in your neighborhood, be very cautious of downed power lines. Be very cautious of downed trees, because there may be a that power line that is entangled within it that you may not be able to see.

    So we want to lift the curfew as soon as possible, but we also don't want to do it and jeopardize somebody's safety. So we're — we have got it in place again this evening. And then it's just a slow grind getting this thing cleaned up and getting electricity turned back on and getting the staples of life back here.

    What has really hit us hard here is that the storm sat over us for two straight days and just dumped a tremendous amount of water on us and rain.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Bill Saffo, mayor of Wilmington, North Carolina, thank you very much.

  • Bill Saffo:

    Thank you.

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