Deadly Florence trudges inland in Carolinas with 'epic' rain, flooding

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USA power companies said more than 870,000 homes and businesses, mostly in North Carolina and SC, were without power on Saturday after Florence hit the Southeast coast.

SC authorities said law enforcement officers were guarding against looting in evacuated areas, while Wilmington set a curfew on Saturday evening in response to looting in one area.

In Lumberton, North Carolina, volunteers are working to try to prevent a repeat of what happened with 2016's Hurricane Matthew, which left the city underwater for days.

"The fact that there haven't been more deaths and damage is wonderful and a blessing", Rebekah Roth said yesterday while walking around Wilmington's Winoca Terrace neighborhood.

The centre of the slow-moving storm, downgraded from a Category 1 hurricane after it came ashore Friday afternoon, was almost stalled over SC early Saturday, about 55 kilometres west of Myrtle Beach, moving west-southwest at just 8 km/h and scooping massive amounts of moisture from the sea.

As of 11 p.m., Florence was centered about 40 miles east-southeast of Columbia, South Carolina, amd crawling west at 3 mph - not even as fast as a person walking.

At least five deaths are connected to the storm.

Cooper said others should not follow suit.

"Remember most storm deaths occur from drowning in fresh water, often in cars". National Hurricane Center meteorologist Joel Cline said the mountains will wring water out of the moist tropical air: "It's like running into a wall, and that moisture has to go somewhere, and it goes up, creates rain, and you have torrential rain in that area".

"Please be safe and be smart and use your common sense", Cooper added.

Five people, including a mother and her baby, have been killed by Florence, which was initially categorised as a hurricane with 120mph winds.

The flooding soon spread into SC, swamping places like North Myrtle Beach, in a resort area known for its white sands and multitude of golf courses. Now its maximum sustained winds are about 50mph (80km/h) and it's a tropical storm. The child's father was taken to a hospital.

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North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned people: "Today the threat becomes a reality". " Catastrophic effects will be felt". The city said two Federal Emergency Management Agency teams were working on swift-water rescues and more were on the way.

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At least 14 deaths from the storm have been confirmed, including a man and a woman in Houry County who died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Then, once the remnants of the tempest reach the higher terrain of the southern Appalachians, flash floods, mudslides and debris flows.

Florence was one of two major storms threatening millions of people on opposite sides of the world. A 78-year-old man was electrocuted attempting to connect extension cords while another man died when he was blown down by high winds while checking on his hunting dogs, a county spokesman said.

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

The 18th century town, with a population of 30,000, has been badly flooded, with 4,200 homes damaged.

Across the Trent River from New Bern, Jerry and Jan Andrews returned home after evacuating to find carp flopping in their backyard near the porch stairs. Some area residents described a harrowing retreat as the storm hit.

U.S. correspondent Cordelia Lynch, who is in New Bern, said: "This community in the weeks and months to come is up against a great deal of flooding".

As much as 30 to 40 inches (76-102 cm) of rain could fall on coastal areas in North and SC, the National Hurricane Center said.

The National Hurricane Center said a gauge in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, reported 6.3 feet (1.92 meters) of inundation.

More than 22,600 people were housed in 150 shelters statewide, including schools, churches and Wake Forest University's basketball arena.

Northern South Carolina and southwestern Virginia: 5 to 10 inches, isolated 15 inches.

The White House said yesterday President Donald Trump had approved making federal funding available in some counties.

Trump, who plans a visit to the region next week, tweeted his "deepest sympathies and warmth" to the families and friends of those who had lost their lives.

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