Hurricane Florence: 11 dead and a million without power as violent storm batters US east coast

At least 11 people were confirmed dead on Saturday as tropical storm Florence brought catastrophic flooding to the US state of North Carolina.

Nearly one million people were without power and thousands were in shelters as Donald Trump declared a disaster and the military sent 200 soldiers to help.

Roy Cooper, the governor of North Carolina, said: "This system is unloading epic amounts of rainfall. We face walls of water. It’s relentless and excruciating."

The first victims of the storm, a mother and her eight-month-old son, died when the back wall of their brick bungalow collapsed after being hit by a fallen tree, trapping them.

The mother was named locally as Lesha Murphy-Johnson.

Her home on Mercer Avenue in a suburb of Wilmington, North Carolina, was not under a mandatory evacuation order, but most people had left the area.

Hurricane Florence

A line of old trees stood at the back of the house.

"It’s always a gamble with trees like that," neighbour Adam Sparks said. "But who could be prepared for this?"

Franco Hendrickson, another neighbour, said: "Seeing the devastation was just heartbreaking."

Firefighters who had tried desperately to save the victims later knelt on the ground outside and bowed their heads for a moment of silence.

New Bern, a town of 30,000 was overwhelmed, its centre submerged by a 10ft storm surge on the Neuse River.

A large boat crashed into the Marriott hotel, and its car park turned into a lake with ducks swimming by.

Another large boat crashed into power lines along a street.

Dan Eudy, who was rescued after a boat crashed into his porch, said: "This is a 1,000-year event."

Some 400 people in New Bern were rescued, many in inflatable boats, and over 4,000 homes were damaged.

Further south at the Triangle Motel Inn motel the roof had been ripped off.

Bill Thomas, a guest, told The Telegraph: "I was looking out the window, and the ceiling fell on my wife Ruby when she was in bed."

Storm tracker: Follow path of Hurricane Florence

Some 1.7 million people had been told to evacuate but many stayed.

About 20,000 took refuge in shelters at schools, others moved into hotels. In the town of Jacksonville, North Carolina 70 people, including families with pets, were rescued after The Triangle Motor Inn motel began crumbling and parts of its roof came off.

At the Carolinian Inn in Wilmington owner Laxman Odedra, 65, a British citizen who moved from Berkshire 23 years ago, surveyed the impact on his motel.

The floor to ceiling window in the lobby was blown out and a 40ft pine tree toppled with a crash during the night, trapping cars in the car park. “We don’t know what the eventual damage is yet, it’s still going on,” he told The Telegraph.

Hurricane Florence: Panic buying and empty shelves as US residents prepare – in pictures

A large tree also fell on the Indochine Thai restaurant nextdoor, crushing a roof. Tim Samples, 32, fled his home two blocks away, along with his wife and three daughters, to shelter at the Carolinian Inn.

“This is the worst storm I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I don’t know if my house is OK. I can’t get back there at the moment. Fingers crossed.”

Streets in Wilmington, which usually has a population of 100,000, were deserted. Its suburban areas became a maze of roads blocked by fallen trees and power lines. One tree fell on Kevin DiLoreto’s home.

“It’s insane. I’ve never seen tree devastation this bad,” he said.

Hurricane Florence wind speed forecast map

Donald Trump to visit next week

The White House said on Friday that President Donald Trump had spoken to state and local officials, assuring them the federal government was prepared to help.

He planned a visit to the region next week, said a spokesman, once his presence would not interfere with rescue efforts.

The spokesman added that the White House "stood ready and prepared to assist with anything" needed by the affected areas.

‘We are coming to get you’

Wilmington sits on the already swollen Cape Fear River which was not expected to crest for several days.

The town of New Bern, 90 miles up the coast from Wilmington, saw its centre submerged as the River Neuse quickly burst its banks following a 10ft storm surge.

Residents rescued 350 neighbours using boats but many more were still stranded.

They were also being helped by the Cajun Navy, a group of Louisiana-based hurricane volunteers. They have become a feature of recent storms, using their own boats to mount rescue operations.

In a tweet New Bern officials told those stranded to “move up to the second floor, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU”.

A local TV station in the town had to evacuate its own newsroom as it was broadcasting details of the hurricane.

George Zaytoun, one of those who had decided not to evacuate New Bern, said: "It’s like a bomb has gone off. Everything around us is underwater."

In Bayboro, North Carolina, Kim Dunncalled In to ABC News to say she was trapped in her truck as waters rose. Some 9,700 members of the National Guard have been deployed to the area with helicopters and boats. 

In Wilmington some of those who did not evacuate said they had not believed the warnings. On Thursday night several dozen of them gathered in the Barbary Coast, the only bar to stay open, on the banks of the Cape Fear River.

“About 70 per cent of people I know evacuated,” said patron Tom Bruin, 32, as a television broadcast dire warnings. “I’m not sure I believe the hype. We’ll see.”

Leave a Reply