The Latest: 16th death blamed on Hurricane Florence

Posted at 11:15 AM, Sep 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-16 17:50:51-04

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) – The Latest on Tropical Depression Florence (all times local):

5:20 p.m.

Officials have confirmed a 16th death attributed to Florence.

The South Carolina Department of Public Safety says a pickup truck was traveling east on a road near Gilbert, South Carolina, around 6 a.m. Sunday when it drove into standing water on the roadway.

Officials say the driver, identified as 30-year-old Rhonda R. Hartley, lost control and went off the side of the road, hitting a tree. The driver died at the scene.

Officials in South Carolina are warning about dangerous flash flooding throughout the state as rains from the remnants of Hurricane Florence continue.

The driver’s name wasn’t immediately released.


5:20 p.m.

Flood waters fueled by Florence’s heavy rains have submerged instruments used by the federal government to monitor river levels in North Carolina, causing at least two of them to stop working.

The U.S. Geological Survey said Sunday that a gauge on the Cape Fear River near Chinquapin stopped transmitting after hitting its limit of 24.2 feet (7.38 meters). A gauge on the Trent River in Trenton, North Carolina, stopped working when water levels hit 21.5 feet (6.55 meters). Major flood stages at those sites occur when the rivers reach 15 or 16 feet (4.6 or 4.9 meters).

Supervisory hydrologist Douglas A. Walters says more gauges are likely to become submerged and stop working. The gauges are normally installed well above the heights floodwaters are expected to reach. USGS crews have been working in the field over the weekend to raise some gauges even higher.


5:05 p.m.

Tropical Depression Florence has picked up speed as it continues dumping heavy rains over the Carolinas.

The National Hurricane Center says Florence is moving north at 14 mph (22 kph) – a brisk pace compared to its sluggish crawl across the region since Thursday, when it barely topped speeds at which most humans can walk.

Florence’s top sustained wind speeds held at 35 mph (55 kph). By 5 p.m. Sunday, Florence was centered about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south-southeast of Greenville, South Carolina, and about 60 miles south-southeast of Asheville, North Carolina.

Forecasters say Florence is still expected to produce excessive rainfall as it turns from the Carolinas over the Mid-Atlantic and southern New England early this week.


5:05 p.m.

Motorists who would ordinarily travel through North Carolina are still being asked to stay out because of poor road conditions in the aftermath of Florence.

Bill Holmes, a state spokesman, said Sunday the message is: “Please don’t come through here if you can avoid it.”

Authorities say flooding is widespread, conditions are changing constantly and the roads need to be kept clear for first responders. High water has led to closures on Interstates 40 and 95, two major arteries.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation posted a map online of what it acknowledged was an “extremely long detour” through Tennessee and Georgia for travelers heading south on Interstate 95. It also warned that GPS systems are routing users into areas the department doesn’t recommend for travel.

A map with real-time road conditions is available online .


4:35 p.m.

Floodwaters from Florence are lapping at doorsteps of some homes in the town of Bennettsville, South Carolina, where firefighters used an inflatable boat to get some residents to dry ground.

Heavy rain from the remnants of Hurricane Florence caused the street to flood Sunday on Talon Drive where Mildred Smith lives across the street from her niece, Jovanaka Smith.

Water had seeped to their front porches Sunday afternoon when firefighters came to the neighborhood, wading door-to-door through ankle-deep water and asking residents to leave.

The Smiths packed some spare clothes and medications before getting into a rescue boat. They didn’t have to go far. Firefighters dropped them off at the neighboring home of a relative that remained on dry ground.


4:15 p.m.

Duke Energy says the collapse of a coal ash landfill at a closed power station near the North Carolina coast is an “ongoing situation,” with an unknown amount of potentially contaminated storm water flowing into a nearby lake.

Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said Sunday that a full assessment of how much ash escaped at the Sutton Power Station outside Wilmington can’t occur until it stops raining. She said there was no indication that contamination from Sutton Lake had drained into the nearby Cape Fear River.

The company initially estimated on Saturday that about 2,000 cubic yards (1,530 cubic meters) of ash were displaced at the landfill, which is enough to fill about 180 dump trucks. Sheehan said that estimate could be revised after a further examination of conditions at the site.


4:15 p.m.

Rivers are rising to dangerous levels and city parks have become submerged in water as unrelenting rain brought by Tropical Depression Florence continues to come down on Fayetteville, North Carolina, and the surrounding area.

The Cape Fear River, which passes through the city, continued to rise Sunday. The National Weather Service says the river had reached 41 feet (12.5 meters) by 2 p.m., 6 feet (2 meters) above flood stage. The river is expected to crest at 62 feet (19 meters) Tuesday, prompting a mandatory evacuation for areas within 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) of the river.

Fayetteville resident Charles Jockers says the slow rise may lull people into complacency. He says despite an evacuation order, in-town traffic has been increasing over the past few days.

Heavy rain continued to fall in Fayetteville on Sunday, and the national weather service predicts 1 inch to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 centimeters) of rain will fall overnight. Rain is forecast to slow to a trickle of less than a tenth of an inch by Tuesday night.


3:45 p.m.

Officials in southwest Virginia are urging residents to evacuate ahead of potentially “life-threatening” flash flooding.

The city of Roanoke is asking residents who live in a flood plain to leave their homes ahead of heavy rains expected to begin Sunday afternoon as Florence moves out of the Carolinas and heads north.

Roanoke said they expect potentially deadly flash flooding could continue through Monday afternoon. The Red Cross has opened a shelter in the city.

The National Weather Service said Florence could bring as much as 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain in the region and lead to major river flooding that could last for several days.

The Floyd County Sheriff’s office said on Facebook that the majority of creeks and rivers that officials surveyed Sunday were “at or just outside of their banks.”


3:30 p.m.

The National Weather Service has declared a flash-flood emergency for part of the county that is home to North Carolina’s biggest city.

The emergency was put into effect Sunday afternoon for central and southeastern Mecklenburg County. The weather service says streams and creeks are running very high in south Charlotte, Matthews and nearby areas.

The weather service warns some bodies of water have risen to record stages and impacts may be “unprecedented.”

The city of Charlotte tweeted that residents should stay off the roads.

A flash-flood emergency also was declared for adjacent Union County, where the weather service says several water rescues were underway and emergency management officials reported as many as 70 flooded roads.


3:30 p.m.

South Carolina officials are warning residents about flash flooding as rains from Florence continue to pelt the state.

Gov. Henry McMaster told reporters on Sunday that it will be days until the cresting of rivers in the area of most concern, along the state’s border with North Carolina.

Officials have been warning for days that flooding could be disastrous in the Yadkin-Pee Dee River basin, into which several swollen rivers that originate in North Carolina flow.

National Weather Service officials noted that as much as 16 inches (40 centimeters) of rain have fallen in Chesterfield County, with other nearby areas marking similar rainfall totals from Florence..

Transportation Secretary Christy Hall says workers are still working on projects along two roadways to divert rainwater to keep U.S. 378 and U.S. 501 Bypass passable.


3:20 p.m.

The White House says President Donald Trump has spoken to the mayors of New Bern, North Carolina, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, as he monitors the response to Florence.

The White House says Trump was also briefed Sunday on the storm’s aftermath by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Coast Guard Commandant Karl Schultz and Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Trump and Mayors Dana Outlaw of New Bern and Brenda Bethune of Myrtle Beach discussed rescue-and-response efforts in those communities.

The White House says Outlaw thanked Trump for immediately authorizing an emergency declaration to help speed the delivery of federal assistance.



2:05 p.m.

A small town in northeast South Carolina is getting flooding rains from what’s left of Florence.

Downpours overnight flooded main roads in the town of Cheraw early Sunday and brought water to the doorsteps of some low-lying homes.

Cheraw Police Chief Keith Thomas says about 12 people were evacuated from four homes. Police rescued five others from cars that stalled out in floodwaters. Thomas says no one was injured.

The flooding largely receded from the town of about 6,000 people by Sunday afternoon. But Thomas said rain could fall until midnight.

Debbie Covington was nervously watching water rise in a drainage ditch near her home. She evacuated her elderly parents from their house next door, which sits directly beside the overflowing ditch.

Covington said roads blocked by water and fallen trees were making it difficult to drive.


2 p.m.

The death toll from Florence has risen to 15.

The South Carolina Highway Patrol says a pickup truck was traveling west on Interstate 20 in Kershaw County on Sunday morning when it went off the roadway. Troopers say the truck struck an overpass support beam, and the driver died at the scene.

Kershaw County Coroner David West says the driver’s name has not been released because all relatives have not yet been notified.

Heavy rain has fallen on portions of central and eastern South Carolina after former hurricane-turned-Tropical Depression Florence moved onshore.


1:10 p.m.

Some officials rely on the “Waffle House index” to determine how serious a storm is. If the Waffle House is closed, the storm is really, really bad.

In Fayetteville, North Carolina, it’s the “Rude Awakening index.”

Bruce Arnold owns the downtown coffee shop by that name that has been in business in the city for 20 years.

Arnold says the shop only shuts down if it loses power, which it did in 2016 during Hurricane Matthew.

But as of Sunday afternoon, the shop still had its lights on and was open for business – even as others nearby were boarded up and had sandbags piled in front of their doors.

Meanwhile, long lines were forming at gas stations Sunday as a persistent rain fell. Many of the city’s stations are out of fuel.

Debbie Randolph says she and her husband called one station that said they had 5,000 gallons (19,000 liters) – and 60 people waiting to fill up.


12:50 p.m.

The city of Wilmington, North Carolina, has been completely cut off by floodwaters and officials are asking for additional help from state law enforcement and the National Guard.

Woody White is chairman of the board of commissioners of New Hanover County. He said at a news conference Sunday that additional rainfall Saturday night made roads into the city impassable.

White says officials are planning for food and water to be flown to the county, although new distribution centers will have to be found because of all the rain in the northern part of the county.

Earlier Sunday, officials from the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority had said they were almost out of fuel for the water plant and might have to shut down. The utility later issued a release saying it had found additional fuel.

White says officials have asked Gov. Roy Cooper for additional aid.


12:50 p.m.

North Carolina officials say large-scale search-and-rescue operations are underway in coastal areas as floodwaters from Florence spread across the state and road conditions worsen.

Michael Sprayberry is director of the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management. He said at a news conference that more than 1,000 responders were working with more than 200 boats to rescue people Sunday afternoon.

Officials are also delivering food, water and rescue vehicles to hard-hit areas.

The state’s transportation secretary says 171 primary roads are closed, 100 more than a day earlier. Officials warned that problems would spread westward Sunday along with the remnants of the storm.

Gov. Roy Cooper says the storm has “never been more dangerous” than it is now for areas from Fayetteville and Lumberton, across the Sandhills and central part of the state into the mountains.

Around 15,000 North Carolinians are in shelters and about 700,000 were without power.



North Carolina state regulators and environmental groups are monitoring the threat from hog and poultry farms in low-lying, flood-prone areas.

These industrial-scale farms typically feature vast pits of animal feces and urine that can pose a significant pollution threat if they are breached or inundated by floodwaters.

In past hurricanes, flooding at dozens of farms also left hundreds of thousands of dead hogs, chickens and other decomposing livestock bobbing in the floodwaters.


11:45 a.m.

North Carolina’s transportation secretary says one of his top priorities is to find a way to get into Wilmington after damage from Florence closed major roads into the city.

Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon told The Associated Press on Sunday that U.S. 74 into Wilmington is impassable and Interstate 40 into the city also is closed.

Trodgon spoke as he flew with Gov. Roy Cooper over some of the damaged areas. During the flight on a U.S. Coast Guard cargo plane, they flew from Raleigh and to some of the hardest-hit areas, including Fayetteville, Lumberton, Jacksonville and New Bern. Weather conditions prevented them from getting as far east as Wilmington.


11:45 a.m.

The manager of a southeastern North Carolina county says about 90 people have been rescued from high waters due to flooding.

Columbus County Manager Mike Stephens said late Sunday morning that rivers and streams have been rising due to large amounts of rain from Florence and power is out in a large swath of the county. Stephens says the county’s secondary roads are “almost impassable” and water is covering part of one main highway, U.S. 74.

Stephens says some of the people were rescued from vehicles that ran into deep water.

He says there have been no reports of injuries or fatalities in Columbus County from the storm.


11:20 a.m.

Former hurricane-turned-Tropical Storm Florence has claimed a 14th victim: a man who drowned when a pickup truck flipped into a drainage ditch in South Carolina.

Georgetown County Coroner Kenny Johnson says 23-year-old Michael Dalton Prince was a passenger in the truck, which lost control on a flooded two-lane road early Sunday.

Johnson says the driver and another passenger escaped after the truck ended upside down in the flooded ditch north of Georgetown.

Prince is the fourth person killed by the storm in South Carolina.

Authorities say a Horry County couple died of carbon monoxide poisoning running a generator inside and a Union County woman died when her vehicle hit a tree branch.


10:30 a.m.

One of the authorities leading the response to Florence says the storm is causing “historic and unprecedented flooding.”

Michael Sprayberry is director of the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management. He told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that Florence’s combination of heavy rainfall, extreme storm surge and high winds makes the storm “one for the record books.”

Both Sprayberry and Coast Guard commandant Adm. Karl Schultz say they are getting all the support they need from the federal government.

Schultz has a lead role in responding to Florence. He notes that the storm is moving very slowly and that some of the affected areas haven’t seen the worst of it.

He also notes that the affected areas are looking at a “long-term recovery.”


9:45 a.m.

The mayor of a Fayetteville, North Carolina, suburb says about 100 people in her community have been urged to evacuate to higher ground over flooding concerns.

Hope Mills Mayor Jackie Warner said Sunday morning that the warning went out to neighborhoods around Hope Mills Lake because the water there is expected to rise significantly. She says fire and police officials were going door to door in the affected neighborhoods Sunday morning to make sure people are aware.

Warner says a complete dam failure is not expected. So far, she says the lake hasn’t overflowed its banks.


9:45 a.m.

The mayor of New Bern, North Carolina, says his city has imposed a curfew. He says there are 30 roads still unpassable, 4,200 homes and more than 300 commercial buildings damaged, 6,000 customers without power and 1,200 residents in shelters because of hurricane-turned Tropical Depression Florence.

Mayor Dana Outlaw told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that many of the creeks in the area are “increasing by the hour” and there’s concern about trees falling due to the saturated ground conditions.

Outlaw says officials are “urging residents to stay inside and to not travel,” especially so as to not interrupt utility workers trying to restore power.


9:45 a.m.

The head of the U.S. government’s disaster relief agency says Florence is unfortunately delivering the damage that was predicted as it sweeps across the Carolinas.

Brock Long told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is working to meet the demands of North Carolina officials “as they’re coming up to us.”

Long noted that “recovery is always a very frustrating process for people when they’ve lost their livelihoods, but we’re going to be OK.”

Long says the agency’s immediate focus is on search-and-rescue efforts and meeting the needs of people who are in shelters.


9 a.m.

Authorities say a couple have died in South Carolina after using a generator inside their home during Florence.

Horry County Chief Deputy Coroner Tamara Willard said 63-year-old Mark Carter King and 61-year-old Debra Collins Rion were killed by breathing in carbon monoxide.

Willard said in a statement their bodies were found in a Loris home Saturday afternoon, but they likely died the day before as the heavy rains and winds from former hurricane-turned-Tropical Depression Florence were moving onshore.


5:10 a.m.

Florence has weakened into a tropical depression but flash flooding and major river flooding are expected to continue over significant portions of the Carolinas.

The National Hurricane Center says in its 5 a.m. update Sunday that excessive amounts of rain are still being dumped in North Carolina and the effect is expected to be “catastrophic.” An elevated risk of landslides is now expected in western North Carolina.

Forecasters say heavy rains also are expected early in the week in parts of West Virginia and the west-central portion of Virginia. Both states also are at a risk of dangerous flash floods and river flooding.

At 5 a.m. Sunday, Florence was about 20 miles (35 kilometers) southwest of Columbia, South Carolina. It has top sustained winds of 35 mph (55 kph) and is moving west at 8 mph (13 kph).


2:06 a.m.

Tropical Storm Florence is expected to weaken into a depression soon but flash flooding and major river flooding are expected to continue over significant portions of the Carolinas.

The National Hurricane Center says excessive amounts of rain are still being dumped in North Carolina and the effect is expected to be “catastrophic.” In its 2 a.m. update Sunday, the center also says an elevated risk of landslides is now expected in western North Carolina.

Forecasters say heavy rains also are expected early in the week in parts of West Virginia and the west-central portion of Virginia. Both states also are at a risk of dangerous flash floods and river flooding.

At 2 a.m. Sunday, Florence was about 25 miles (45 kilometers) southeast of Columbia, South Carolina. It has top sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kph) and is moving west at 6 mph (9 kph).


1:05 a.m.

North Carolina is bracing for what could be the next stage of the still-unfolding disaster: widespread, catastrophic river flooding from Florence.

After blowing ashore as a hurricane with 90 mph (145 kph) winds, Florence virtually parked itself much of the weekend atop the Carolinas as it pulled warm water from the ocean and hurled it onshore. Storm surges, flash floods and winds have spread destruction widely and the Marines, the Coast Guard and volunteers have used boats, helicopters, and heavy-duty vehicles to conduct hundreds of rescues as of Saturday.

The death toll from the hurricane-turned-tropical storm has now climbed to 11.

Rivers are swelling toward record levels, forecaster warn, and thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate for fear that the next few days could bring some of the most destructive flooding in North Carolina history.


This story corrects wind speed in first entry to 35 mph not 25 mph.

(Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)