MIAMI — It’s about the water, not the wind, with Hurricane Florence making an extended stay along the North Carolina coast. Forecasters say “it cannot be emphasized enough that the most serious hazard associated with slow-moving Florence is extremely heavy rainfall, which will cause disastrous flooding that will be spreading inland.”
Top sustained winds made it just a Category 1 hurricane but some communities were already submerged in more than six feet of water as the storm drenched the coast. In an interview with “CBS This Morning” on Friday morning, FEMA administrator Brock Long issued a stark warning: “It’s only going to get worse at this point.”
BY THE NUMBERS
-Big storm: about 400 miles wide, with hurricane-force winds stretching across a 160-mile span
– Rescues: In New Bern, North Carolina, about 150 people were rescued and 150 were still waiting to be rescued after more than 10 feet of powerful storm surge flooded the small city. More than 60 people had to be pulled from a collapsing motel in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
-Heavy rains: parts of the Carolinas could see 20 inches to 30 inches, with isolated areas getting 40 inches, over seven days along the coast
-Storm surge: up to 13 feet, and seawaters could push inland 2 miles (more than 3 kilometers), depending on how long Florence lingers
-Fatal hazards: historically, 49 percent of U.S. hurricane deaths come from storm surge, 27 percent from rain, 8 percent from wind, 6 percent from surf, 6 percent were offshore and 3 percent from tornadoes
-Intensity: Florence came ashore with top winds of 90 mph, below the 111 mph threshold for a “major” hurricane but still extremely dangerous
-Going dark: more than 510,000 outages, mostly in North Carolina, as of Friday morning, with Duke Energy anticipating 1 million to 3 million homes and businesses losing power
-Populated coastline: 11 million Americans live in areas under storm watches and warnings
-Grounded: nearly 1,200 flights canceled
-Potential losses: private meteorologists estimate $10 billion to $60 billion in economic damages
If Florence doesn’t wipe out oceanfront homes perched on stilts along the Carolinas coast, rising sea levels will . Florence is hitting low-lying barrier islands that experience some of the fastest rates of sea level rise observed anywhere in the world, nearly an inch (2.5 centimeters) a year. Nevertheless, North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature listened to coastal developers and passed a law in 2012 requiring state scientists and regulators to consider climate-change skeptics in sea level rise projections for development and infrastructure planning. Billions are being invested in homes and condos on low-lying land likely to be inundated, while bridges and roads are being built too low.
TO THE RESCUE
Fast response crews from California, Florida, Oregon, Virginia and New England converged on the Carolinas with inflatable Zodiac boats, all-terrain vehicles and mini-bikes to help with rescues and debris clearing in Florence’s wake.
The mayor of Hurricane, West Virginia, stepped in to rescue a wedding on North Carolina’s Outer Banks from an uninvited guest: Florence. As the storm threatened to wash away months of planning , Mayor Scott Edwards offered a unique opportunity to use his city hall for the ceremony. Marsha Bradbury and Jon Gillenwater plan to be wed “in Hurricane during the hurricane” on Sunday.
Mercedes O’Neill is worried about riding out the hurricane in her North Myrtle Beach home. But she’s even more worried about what would happen if she couldn’t quickly get back to work at a Family Dollar store after the storm passes. O’Neill’s family lives paycheck to paycheck, and evacuating isn’t cheap . She thinks her store will try to reopen as soon as possible, and she wouldn’t want to miss work. Her boyfriend boarded up her windows, spraying “Thank God for Trump” on one and “God bless the USA” on the other.
AT THE ZOO
About 1,600 animals at the North Carolina Zoo are hunkered down. Zoo workers moved elephants, giraffes, chimpanzees and hundreds of other species indoors for safety. But spokeswoman Diane Villa says some animals, including bison and elk, will stay in fenced-in yards instead of barns because they don’t like being in fully enclosed spaces. A crew of zookeepers, veterinarians and park rangers will ride out the storm with the animals.
THE POWER OF WATER
Scientists can’t say – yet – that climate change helped make Florence worse. But previous research has shown that the strongest hurricanes are getting wetter, more intense and intensifying faster due to human-caused warming. Studies also have shown that storms are moving more northward and slower both issues in Florence. Sea level rise also adds to storm surge damage : When Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, a study found sea-level rise over the 20th century caused more than $2 billion in additional damage in New York City due to the “extra” storm surge it generated.
ESCAPING TO FLORIDA
Hurricanes usually drive people away from Florida, but Florence is making the Sunshine State into a refuge for people from the Carolinas. Cruise ships have diverted to Florida away from the storm’s path, and some hotels are offering special discounts for evacuees. What could be better than riding out a hurricane at Walt Disney World ? That’s where Allison Hales Jordan of Wilmington, North Carolina, took her family after boarding up their home and deciding they should “go as far south as possible” to escape Florence’s wrath.
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