Downgraded to a tropical storm but bearing unprecedented amounts of rain, Florence continued its 5 mph crawl over the Carolinas on Saturday morning.
“The storm is going to continue its violent grind across our state for days,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said on Friday. “We are deeply concerned for farms, for businesses, for schools, and even whole communities which could be wiped away.”
By early Saturday, the eye of the storm had passed into South Carolina, but rainfall is expected to continue for days across the region and into Virginia and the Appalachians. Building codes and flood insurance are arranged around FEMA’s 100-year flood plain, but North Carolina officials were calling Florence a 1-in-500 or 1-in-1,000 year flooding event—in large part because of rain that is predicted to accumulate for days. In Emerald Isle, a barrier island near Wilmington, a USGS gauge measured 27.7 inches of rain in 24 hours—a state record. The National Weather Service is predicting between 30 and 40 inches of rain south of Cape Hatteras, with higher totals possible in places.
As of late Friday night, at least five people had died, none from drowning. A mother and baby were killed by a falling tree in Wilmington. Hundreds had been rescued, and more than 800,000 people had lost power. That number could rise as high as 3 million.
More than 9 feet of storm surge in parts of Pamlico Sound overwhelmed communities like New Bern, North Carolina, where more than 100 people were rescued on Thursday night.
While the state assesses the damage to the coast, the bigger threat now moves inland. Like last year’s Hurricane Harvey, Florence is one of the unusually slow-moving storms that scientists predict will become more common with climate change. Swirling bands of rain continued to pound Eastern North Carolina on Friday night as the storm moved slowly west. Rain-swollen rivers are expected to reach all-time record highs early next week.
On the bright side, the wild horses of the Outer Banks have survived the storm without any trouble, herd manager Meg Puckett told the Charlotte News & Observer.