Wednesday 7 December 2016

Severe flooding in North Carolina as Hurricane Matthew US death toll reaches 15

Published 09/10/2016 | 16:54

A man walks through flooded waters near his home after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
A man walks through flooded waters near his home after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
Vehicles make their way east on North Carolina Highway 72 as flood waters rise after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane

Hurricane Matthew's rains triggered severe flooding in North Carolina on Sunday as the deteriorating storm made its exit to the sea and thousands of people had to be rescued from their homes and cars.

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The death toll in the US climbed to at least 15, half of them in North Carolina.

Jeffrey Demczuk (C) cooks breakfast for his family and neighbors outside his Tzadik Bay apartment due to the power being out in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Daytona Beach, Florida, U.S. October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Phelan Ebenhack
Jeffrey Demczuk (C) cooks breakfast for his family and neighbors outside his Tzadik Bay apartment due to the power being out in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Daytona Beach, Florida, U.S. October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Phelan Ebenhack

The storm was stripped of hurricane status just before daybreak, but the crisis - set off by more than a foot of rain - was far from over.

"As the sun rises in North Carolina and the blue sky returns, our state is facing major destruction and, sadly, loss of life," governor Pat McCrory said as the effects of Saturday's deluge became clearer at daylight.

Rivers and creeks overflowed, driving people from their homes and trapping others as much as 100 miles inland. The unofficial rainfall totals were staggering: 18in in Wilmington, 14in in Fayetteville and 8in in Raleigh.

Mr McCrory said police and emergency crews had made more than 880 water rescues.

In Fayetteville alone, emergency workers and police saved nearly 600 people from rapidly rising floodwaters, officials said.

The governor said that four people were missing in the Fayetteville area and that the full scale of the disaster was not yet known because the flooding continued overnight and there were many places that search teams had not yet reached.

A boat is partially submerged in the Halifax River in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Daytona Beach, Florida, U.S. October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Phelan Ebenhack
A boat is partially submerged in the Halifax River in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Daytona Beach, Florida, U.S. October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Phelan Ebenhack

"There could be some back roads where we had people swept away. I'm praying that is not going to be," Mr McCrory said.

Most of the deaths happened when vehicles were swept away by floodwaters.

Shortly before daybreak, the hurricane was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone.

As of 8am local time, the storm was centred about 60 miles south east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, moving out to sea. It still had hurricane-force winds of 75mph.

Forecasters said North Carolina and Virginia could get even more rain and warned of the danger of life-threatening flooding through Monday night.

"Stay home. Most of your church services have been cancelled. There's no reason to go out. Take the day off," Fayetteville mayor Nat Robertson said.

An airplane lies upside down at the Ormond Beach Municipal Airport in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Ormond Beach, Florida, U.S. October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Phelan Ebenhack
An airplane lies upside down at the Ormond Beach Municipal Airport in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Ormond Beach, Florida, U.S. October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Phelan Ebenhack

Matthew also killed more than 500 people in Haiti last week as it ploughed through the Caribbean.

Other places south of the Carolinas, meanwhile, began getting back to normal, with millions relieved that the storm was not the catastrophe that many had been bracing for.

In many places, the damage consisted mostly of flooded streets, blown-down signs and awnings, flattened trees and power outages.

As the skies cleared on Saturday, people started cleaning up, reopening their businesses or hitting the beach. The power started coming back on. And all three major theme parks in Orlando, Florida, including Walt Disney World, were up and running.

Along Daytona Beach's main road, the Silver Diner had all of its shiny metal siding ripped off the front and sides, leaving only a wood frame exposed. Next door, the window of a souvenir shop had been blown out and the roof and ceiling torn through, leaving pink insulation dangling.

David Beasley, president of Insurance Recovery, surveyed the damage and said that although it looked bad, the main road was hit harder by Hurricanes Charley and Frances in 2004.

"This is not much compared to those two," he said.

On Saturday, Matthew sideswiped two of the South's oldest and most historic cities - Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina - and also brought torrential rain and stiff wind to places such as Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

After pounding North Carolina and drenching parts of Virginia, it was expected to veer out to sea, lose steam and loop back around towards the Bahamas and Florida, too feeble to cause any trouble.

For nearly its entire run up the coast from Florida, Matthew hung just far enough offshore that communities did not feel the full force of its winds.

Its storm centre, or eye, finally blew ashore just north of Charleston on Saturday, but only briefly. And by that time, Matthew was just barely a hurricane, with winds of just 75mph.

Matthew's winds were howling at a terrifying 145mph when the hurricane struck Haiti, where five days later the full extent of the tragedy was not yet known because some devastated areas were still unreachable.

About 100 guests and workers had to be evacuated from a Comfort Inn hotel in the North Carolina coastal town of Southport after the hurricane cracked a wall and left the roof in danger of collapse, authorities said. And dramatic video showed Fayetteville police rescuing a woman and her small child from their car as rising waters swallowed it.

An estimated two million people in the south east were ordered to evacuate their homes as Matthew closed in. By hugging the coast, the storm behaved pretty much as forecasters predicted. A shift of just 20 or 30 miles could have meant widespread devastation.

"People got incredibly lucky," Colorado State University meteorology professor Phil Klotzbach said. "It was a super-close call."

While Matthew's wind speed had dropped considerably by the time it hit the south east coast, the storm will rank as one of the most powerful hurricanes on record, based on such factors as wind energy and longevity, and as one of the most long-lived major hurricanes too.

It was a major hurricane - that is, with winds of at least 110mph - for just over seven days.

Three-quarters of a million people lost power in North Carolina, according to the governor, along with a similar number in South Carolina, 250,000 in Georgia and about one million in Florida.

In addition to the seven deaths in North Carolina, there were four in Florida and three in Georgia.

The deaths included an elderly Florida couple who died from carbon monoxide fumes while running a generator in their garage and two women who were killed when trees fell on a home and a camper.

Property data firm CoreLogic projected that insured losses on home and commercial properties would amount to $4bn to $6bn (€3.5bn to €5.35bn), well below Hurricane Katrina's $40bn (€35.7bn) and Superstorm Sandy's $20bn (€17.85bn).

Press Association

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