Hurricane Florence: Trump declares North Carolina a ‘major disaster’ as fears grow about massive flooding yet to come

Donald Trump has declared North Carolina a “major disaster”, as officials warned of the potential for massive flooding from the “epic” amount of rainfall being unloaded by Hurricane Florence.

With at least five fatalities confirmed as a result of the storm, emergency workers were going door to door in parts of the the state to urge residents to flee rising floodwaters. More than two feet of water had already fallen in some places and was not expected to stop soon.

At a press conference in Raleigh, North Carolina governor Roy Cooper told residents that if they were safe they should stay put. “We know people are anxious to go back. But don’t go back until you get the official all-clear. This system is unloading an epic amount of rainfall.”

He said rivers were expected to rise in the days ahead and reminded people that most deaths following hurricanes came from people drowning in freshwater. “Do not try and drive across a river,” he said.

Mr Trump’s declaration, announced on Saturday by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in relation to eight counties in the state, means additional federal funding can be used to help people in Beaufort, Brunswick, Carteret, Craven, New Hanover, Onslow, Pamlico, and Pender counties. 

“Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programmes to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster,” FEMA said in a statement. It said it also provided assistance to local governments for clean-up efforts following the storm, including building repairs.

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Meanwhile, with Florence having been downgraded to a tropical storm, by lunchtime on Saturday it was located about 40 miles west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, moving west at around 2 mph. 

National Hurricane Centre Director Ken Graham said radar and rain gauges indicated some areas had received as much as two feet of rain, which he called “absolutely staggering”. He told the Associated Press: “And we’re not done yet.”

Meanwhile, the AP said that in towns such as New Bern, 90 miles northwest of the coastal city of Wilmington and where several hundred people had to be rescued, emergency workers were urging people to get out before worse flooding took hold.

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 towards 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. 

Charlotte and Asheville in North Carolina, and Roanoke, Virginia, could be in for heavy rains as Florence plods inland, the news agency said. Areas like New Bern also could see an additional three to five feet of storm surge as high tide combines with the seawater still being pushed ashore by Florence.

On Friday, Mr Cooper called Florence an “uninvited brute who doesn’t want to leave”, and warned it could wipe out entire communities as it grinds its way across land. 

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