Tropical Depression Florence is continuing to bring relentless, torrential rain to much of the South. Florence has already set a record for rainfall in the state of North Carolina, and thousands have evacuated to shelters in North and South Carolina to ride out the storm.
Florence was downgraded to a tropical depression on Sunday morning, but officials warn the worst of the storm is not yet over, with river levels rising, along with the risk of flash floods. The storm’s death toll has reached at least 14, and officials expect that number to grow.
“Flood waters are still raging across parts of our state, and the risk to life is rising with the angry waters,” said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper on Sunday. “The storm has never been more dangerous than it is now.”
Cooper warned residents throughout North Carolina to stay off the roads. “The threat of flooded roads keeps spreading,” he said. “The Cape Fear, Lumber, Neuse, Yadkin, and portions of the Rocky River and the South Fork of the Catawba River, are still rising, and not expected to crest until later today, or tomorrow.”
In a tweet, the National Weather Service warned, “The flooding WILL GET WORSE in many locations across SC, NC and VA. River levels will continue to rise today and early this week. If you live near a body of water, don’t let your guard down and follow local evacuation orders!”
With Florence moving west at 8 mph, with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph, the National Weather Service is warning of sustained risk from life-threatening floods, landslides, downed trees and power lines. “Florence will continue to produce heavy rain across the Southeast as the system moves slowly inland,” the NWS said on its website. “Up to 15 inches additional rain will exacerbate ongoing flooding. Farther inland, this rainfall will cause new areas of river flooding, flash flooding, and even a potential for landslides in and near the Appalachians. Also, gusty winds could bring down trees and powerlines from saturated soils.”
Flood and flash flood warnings remain in effect for much of North Carolina. The North Carolina Department of Public Safety is telling residents to “Stay home, stay safe,” and reports 654,393 power outages as of Sunday afternoon.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency says rainfall from Florence continues to cause “extreme flooding” and warned of unsafe roads. “If you’re in an affected area, do not go outside unless absolutely necessary,” FEMA said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is instructing parents to keep children out of flood waters, which it says “can hide nails and broken glass, carry infectious diseases, and may contain sewage.”
Central and western North Carolina and southwestern Virginia likely face another 5 to 10 inches of rain; southern North Carolina and northern South Carolina face 4 to 6 inches with 8 inches in some areas; and 2 to 4 inches with isolated areas seeing 6 inches in west-central Virginia.
In addition to the physical damage being done by Florence — it has already left tens of thousands of homes damaged — experts warn of psychological disruption for residents along its path. Sarah Thompson, who is helping lead Save the Children’s response to Florence, told NPR children are among the most vulnerable to emotional trauma from a major storm.
“We know that children have been ripped from the lives that they knew, and they’re unsure of what the future may hold,” Thompson said. “Their homes might be destroyed. They might not know when they’ll get back to school. They might not know where their friends are. It can be a very scary and stressful situation for kids.”
Save the Children advises allowing kids to help with relief efforts so they can regain a sense of control in a storm’s aftermath.
According to the National Weather Service, Florence is forecast to dissipate within three days.