LUMBERTON, N.C. — North Carolina officials warned residents Saturday not to become “complacent” about Tropical Storm Florence, which, despite weaker-than-expected winds, is poised to cause historic flooding and devastation for many days across much of the region.
“We’re trying to make it totally clear that this is deadly,” Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin said, shortly after announcing an unprecedented mandatory evacuation order for all people who live within a mile of the Cape Fear River and the Little River. “We can’t force folks to leave, but we are letting them know if they don’t get out, they are not going to get help for some time.”
The Cape Fear River was about 12 feet high on Friday afternoon and is expected to rise to more than 62 feet in Fayetteville by Tuesday, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Colvin noted that four people died in his city during Hurricane Matthew in 2016, when the river crested at 52 feet.
Florence already has set rainfall records and left tens of thousands of people in shelters and more than 1 million homes without power. Officials confirmed at least 11 deaths, including one Saturday in South Carolina.
As of Saturday, Florence had dropped 30 inches of rain, shattering the record of 24 inches set during Hurricane Floyd in 1999. And the forecast is for the storm, which has essentially stalled over North Carolina, to continue pouring down rain, perhaps 15 more inches.
“We face walls of water — at our coast, along our rivers, across farmland, in our cities and in our towns,” Cooper said at a news briefing. “More people now face imminent threat than when the storm was just offshore. I cannot overstate it. Floodwaters are rising, and if you aren’t watching for them, you are risking your life.”
Officials issued several mandatory evacuation orders, including some 100 miles or more from Wrightsville Beach, N.C., where Florence came ashore Friday with powerful winds and driving rains that only hinted at the catastrophic damage it is likely to inflict.