As the still-potent remains of Hurricane Florence edge out of the Carolinas and roll northward through the mid-Atlantic states, disaster management officials in the storm’s broad, waterlogged wake will be fighting still-rising floods, road damage and transportation and utility disruptions that are expected to continue well into the coming week, and in many cases, weeks and months beyond.
Southeastern North Carolina is particularly sodden, with several locations recording rainfall totals of 30 inches or more by the afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 16. The region’s major rivers were still rising and are expected to continue to do so for days. The Cape Fear River at Fayetteville, N.C. surpassed its flood stage of 35 ft early Sunday morning and is on track to crest at just over 62 ft sometime Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service. South Carolina’s eastern rivers also were nearing flood stage and are predicted to steadily rise well into the week.
Even with Florence’s departure, NWS says parts of the Carolinas may still receive additional rainfall, with total accumulations from the storm of 30 to 40 inches likely.
In South Carolina, the state’s dam regulators have completed assessments of more than 260 structures, with 27 identified for continuous surveillance. Emily Torgerson, a spokeswoman for Tennessee-based emergency response contractor Phillips & Jordan told ENR that the firm's contract with the South Carolina Health and Environmental Dept has been "activated for monitoring and maintaining more than 400 high hazard earthen dams.”
She said that as of Sept. 16: "To our knowledge, none of the dams have breached in South Carolina. We have been out on notice to acquire materials to build temporary and permanent siphons if activated.”
The firm also has been activated by the North Carolina cities of New Bern and Boiling Spring Lakes for damage and risk assessment, debris removal and site management, Torgerson adds.
Landfill Material Displaced
In Wilmington, Florence’s rains caused a slope failure and erosion of a coal ash landfill at Duke Energy’s Sutton Power Plant, which has been closed since 2013. Duke Energy is in the midst of a multi-year project to move 7 million tons of ash from unprotected basins at the site to new, lined cells.
According to the utility, the breach caused the displacement of approximately 2,000 cu yd of material. There are concerns that tainted stormwater might have flowed into a cooling pond on plant property. Environmental monitoring is underway and repairs are planned as soon as weather conditions permit, the utility said. The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality says it is planning to send inspectors.
Wastewater and manure lagoons at eastern North Carolina’s many large hog farms are also being closely watched for leaks or slope failures, with state officials reporting no incidents so far.
The number of primary highway closures grew through the weekend as the center of the sprawling hurricane, which was downgraded to a tropical storm a few hours after an early morning landfall in southeastern N.C. on Friday, Sept. 14 and to a tropical depression two days later, stalled over eastern South Carolina. The swirling storm spent the next two days dragging huge amounts of moisture from the Atlantic Ocean as torrential rains in bands that pounded many areas for hours, even days. A 24-mile stretch of I-40 north of Wilmington, N.C., is shut down due to flooding, while multiple closures along the I-95 corridor have led transportation officials in both states to urge through travelers to utilize lengthy detours through Virginia and Tennessee.
With floodwaters threatening key access routes to Myrtle Beach and other coastal communities, SCDOT began erecting emergency flood barriers alongside low-lying portions of U.S. Route 378 in Florence County. A 1.5-mile barrier was also being installed along U.S. 501 in Horry County.
Despite the looming flood threat and lingering deluge, there are indications that recovery is already starting. After Sept. 15’s power outages peaked at 809,000 in N.C. and 170,000 in S.C., the numbers started coming down the following day—although many areas close to the North Carolina coast have widespread tree damage that will take time to clear.
At least 40,000 workers from across the United States and Canada were in the region helping to restore power, according to the Edison Electric Institute, the investor-owned utility trade group.
All Coastal Ports Reopened
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission reported that the Brunswick nuclear plant in North Carolina had not resumed operations since shutting down ahead of the storm. All coastal ports, except the port in Wilmington, N.C., have reopened.
N.C. Route 12 on Hatteras Island reopened Sept. 16 after NCDOT cleared the coastal roadway of sand deposited from several days’ of wave overwash. Inspectors found no evidence of excessive scouring at the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge across Oregon Inlet.
At least 18 deaths had been attributed to Florence by Monday, Sept. 17. The forecast calls for the storm center to move northward across the Appalachian Mountains, dumping up to 20 inches of rain on western North Carolina and southwestern Virginia and Kentucky. On Monday, the storm was expected to pivot to the northeast over Kentucky and then accelerate and track toward Pennsylvania and across New York and lower New England to exit back out into the Atlantic Ocean around mid week.