NEW BERN, N.C. (AP) – Emergency workers went door to door urging people to flee Florence’s rising floodwaters Saturday and rescuers used inflatable boats to pluck others from homes already submerged as the storm’s epic deluge swelled rivers and creeks across the Carolinas.
More than 2 feet of rain already had fallen in places, and the drenching went on and on as Florence, a hurricane-turned-tropical storm, practically parked itself over the two states. Forecasters said the torrents could continue for days, touching off disastrous flooding.
At least four people have died, and authorities fear the toll will go higher.
Florence blew ashore early Friday in North Carolina with 90 mph winds, buckling buildings, deluging entire communities and knocking out power to more than 900,000 homes and businesses as it crawled inland and weakened into a still-lethal tropical storm.
Officials in North Carolina’s Harnett County, about 90 miles inland, urged residents of about 1,100 homes to evacuate because the Lower Little River was rising toward record levels.
In New Bern, along the coast, aerial photos show homes completely surrounded by water, with rescuers using inflatable boats to go house to house to remove people. More than 360 people have been carried to safety since Thursday night amid rising waters from a river swelled by both rain and salty storm surge.
A pet dog licked Johan Mackie’s face after he helped rescue Kevin Knox’s family from their flooded brick home. The Army sergeant was part of a team using a phone app to locate people in distress.
Mackie rode in a boat through a flooded neighborhood, navigating through trees and past a fence post to get to the Knox house.
“Amazing. They did awesome,” said Knox, who was stranded with seven others, including a boy who was carried out in a life vest. “If not we’d be stuck upstairs for the next … how long? I have no idea.”
At 11 a.m. Saturday, Florence was centered about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, moving west at 2 mph (4 kph), not even as fast as a person can walk. Its winds were down to 45 mph (75 kph).
National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said radar and rain gauges indicated some areas got as much as 2½ feet of rain, which he called “absolutely staggering.”
“And we’re not done yet,” Graham said, adding that some hard-hit areas could get an additional 15 to 20 inches because the storm was moving so slowly.
Charlotte and Asheville in North Carolina, and Roanoke, Virginia, could be in for heavy rains as Florence plods inland. Areas like New Bern also could see an additional 3 to 5 feet of storm surge as high tide combines with the seawater still being pushed ashore by Florence, Graham said.
On Friday, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper called Florence an “uninvited brute who doesn’t want to leave,” warning it could wipe out entire communities as it grinds its way across land.
A mother and baby were killed when a tree fell on a house, according to a tweet from Wilmington police. A 77-year-old man was apparently knocked down by the wind and died after going out to check on his hunting dogs, Lenoir County authorities said. The governor’s office said a man was electrocuted while trying to connect extension cords in the rain.
The hurricane center said the storm will eventually break up over the southern Appalachians and make a right hook to the northeast, its rainy remnants moving into the mid-Atlantic states and New England by the middle of next week.
North Carolina alone is forecast to get 9.6 trillion gallons (36 trillion liters), enough to cover the Tar Heel state to a depth of about 10 inches (25 centimeters).