Hurricane Florence Leaves North Carolina City Mostly 'Inaccessible by Land'

by | September 18, 2018

By Paul A. Specht and Chuck Liddy

Flooding and downed trees from Hurricane Florence are blocking dozens of roads in and around Wilmington Monday, leaving the coastal city largely cut off from the rest of the state.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation on Monday morning tweeted that the city is "inaccessible by land," warning: "Don't travel, let responders work."

Jim Trogdon, the N.C. Transportation Secretary, clarified in a press conference Monday afternoon that one road to Wilmington is open. But he didn't identify the road, saying emergency crews need it and worry about its accessibility throughout the week.

Gov. Roy Cooper added: "We don't need (Wilmington evacuees) going back right now, particularly when this route may disappear tonight."

Meanwhile, a Duke Energy nuclear plant about 30 miles south of Wilmington declared a state of emergency Monday because the 1,200-acre complex was cut off by flood waters and inaccessible to outside personnel, The N&O's Craig Jarvis and John Murawski reported on Monday.

Over the weekend, weather prevented Gov. Roy Cooper and an air crew from flying over Wilmington to assess the damage there, Cooper said in a press conference on Sunday. Between Friday and Sunday, Wilmington police had responded to more than 800 calls.

Wilmington and New Hanover County are "dealing with some very, very tough situations in respect to the impassible roads coming into the city of Wilmington, coming into the county of New Hanover," Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said in video announcement Monday morning. He encouraged displaced residents to be patient as work crews clear the way for them to return home.

A New Hanover County curfew is in effect from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. until further notice.

New Hanover is one of eight counties that has been declared a disaster area, meaning the government is requesting special assistance in helping the area recover. Residents who became unemployed as a result of Florence can apply for benefits by October 17.

(Go to des.nc.gov, call 1-866-795-8877 or email des.dua@nccommerce.com for more information.)

As of Monday, there were 25 storm-related deaths, including 19 in North Carolina. In Wilmington, a mother and child were killed Friday when a tree fell onto their home, according to a tweet by the Wilmington police.

WECT and The Wilmington Star News reported that someone died in New Hanover at Hoggard High School, which was being used as a shelter for evacuees.

An N.C. Emergency Response team provided 23 truckloads of food and bottled water to Wilmington at 3 a.m. Monday.

"An air bridge is in place today to airlift supplies into cut-off areas," said Keith Acree, spokesman for N.C. Emergency Management.

Monday morning, WRAL aired a press conference held by Wilmington Mayor Saffo and Woody White, New Hanover County Commissioners' chairman. Florence has caused 700 rescues in New Hanover so far, White said, adding that the county estimates damage to property will exceed $13 million.

The city experienced a total blackout after Florence arrived in Wilmington as a Category 1 storm Thursday night.

By 6 p.m. Monday afternoon, the number of power outages had dropped from to 422,000 after reaching 632,500 on Sunday. New Hanover had 69,800 outages-- about 45,000 more than Carteret, the county with the second-highest number of outages in NC.

Monday afternoon, helicopters hovered overhead as utility crews worked to clear the streets of trees. Meanwhile, people lined up outside groceries and fueling stations.

Lifelong Wilmington resident Mary Cook, 37, was waiting in a car with her infirm father as her brother retrieved ice at Rose Ice & Coal Company on Market Street. The wait? An hour.

"People act like they've never been through a hurricane before and anyone who lives here know the smaller ones are the worst," Cook said. "The shortages are caused by people hoarding things and buying stuff they don't need. If you're in a safe place just hunker down, that's what we're going to do. Hopefully as more things open there will be less chaos. "

Rose Ice had "a good supply" of ice Monday, said owner Archie Harris, adding, "but it won't last forever."

"We have over 100 tons right now but other towns want because they don't have ice and everybody wants it at once," Harris said.

The sun eventually poked through the clouds over parts over New Hanover County, heating up the dense air and luring back a familiar but unwelcome resident of the lowlands: mosquitoes.

(c)2018 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)