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Florence Death Toll Rises To 23 As Rivers Continue To Flood In N.C. And S.C.

Members of the Coast Guard Shallow-Water Response team escort utility workers to a flooded substation to inspect transformers in Newport, N.C., on Sunday.
U.S. Airman 1st Class Jacob Derry Coast Guard / Reuters
Members of the Coast Guard Shallow-Water Response team escort utility workers to a flooded substation to inspect transformers in Newport, N.C., on Sunday.
Florence Death Toll Rises To 23 As Rivers Continue To Flood In N.C. And S.C.
Florence Death Toll Rises To 23 As Rivers Continue To Flood In N.C. And S.C.

Updated at 2 p.m. ET

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Florence Death Toll Rises To 23 As Rivers Continue To Flood In N.C. And S.C.
San Diegans Volunteer As Hurricane Florence Death Toll Mounts GUEST: Michele Earnest, San Diego Red Cross Volunteer in Roanoke, VA

Our top story on Midday edition the death toll from Hurricane Florence has risen to at least 20. The storm has soaked sections of the Southeastern states for days dumping up to 30 inches of rain. That relentless downpour and storm surge has led to unprecedented flooding in the area. And officials say the worst of the flooding may be yet to come. The town of Wilmington North Carolina is surrounded by water from swollen rivers and runoff food and water will have to be airlifted in. About 3000 Red Cross disaster workers from all over the country have been mobilized to help shelter feed and support people affected by Hurricane Florence. Twenty six of those volunteers are from San Diego. Joining me is Michelle Ernest. She is a Red Cross volunteer from San Diego currently deployed to a shelter in Roanoke Virginia. And Michelle welcome to the program. Hi. Thank you. Now as I understand you and your husband are volunteering in Roanoke why Roanoke what's going on there. Well originally we were sent to Richmond Virginia because they anticipated actually Hurricane Florence making some landfall or having a pretty big impact. And the Richmond area. So we were sent there and Roanoke is in the Western Division and they have a lot of super saturated ground here and they flood very easily. So they're there are flooded areas and with a lot of the water coming in from perhaps from the Carolinas. They they just wanted to be prepared. So so we've had clients here. Right. Tell us what's going on at the shelter. Like how many people are there. What are you doing. Our total count has been 16 just 16 clients and three puppy dogs. So right now we are fully staffed and open and one of our partners is Salvation Army. So they stepped in to provide hot meals for us. But this facility actually has showers as well. So it is a mess out there especially yesterday. Tell us what the weather is like today. It might just be curving away from us. So if that's the case and the clients are able to go back home then they might cause a shelter earlier then if we close the shelter then they will show us off to another shelter perhaps to the Carolinas. So they be the headquarters for the National Weather Service to see what people need what clients need. They just really were very good at planning to make sure that nobody would be in need or are in danger. So our clients have been really really appreciative Michelle. We've heard in other areas of this southeastern in North and South Carolina that after the rains the rivers are rising there's local flooding. Is there anything going on like that where you are. Yeah and I think down there's a town called Danville that's pretty close to Roanoke so that might be a place that we were go. I know they look at the levees and the dams and that water flow could affect here which is why there hasn't necessarily been a closing date here for sure. Even though it looks like it might not rain as much as they thought it might. Still some of those waters can flow into the area. So I know there were shelters of doubloon and we drove down I think on Saturday it's deliver food down to Hillsville. And I know that they had to shift where the shelter was because they were afraid that was going to get flooded. So we don't get the news. I understand. Understandable. So Michelle let me let me ask you this. I understand this is the first time you've been sent to help in another state. What inspired you to volunteer with the Red Cross in San Diego. Well especially last year in the fall my husband I retired teachers and so here we are watching Harvey and Maria and we're both bilingual Spanish speakers as well. And they just thought OK I what we can go travel and how no. So we contacted the Red Cross to find out how to volunteer and be able to get out and do this kind of work. So that was we just were wanting to help people and we use hardest hit by and just go oh my gosh all this stuff is happening and I want to help. And so it just also makes you appreciate and think about like if you don't have a place to go you need a place to go and having even if it's an niter you just feeling like you're safe and secure. There's a lot of uncertainty a lot of anxiety and just being able to give somebody you know a warm bed to sleep in and some food and some comfort and conversation to kind of change you know that whole anxiety level. So that's what we've been able to do and that's what I hope to do. And it feels it feels like the right thing it feels like a good fit for me and for my husband. I've been speaking with Michelle Ernest. She and her husband John are volunteering with the Red Cross and they are currently deployed to a shelter in Roanoke Virginia. Michelle thank you very much. So nice to talk with you too.

People in North Carolina and South Carolina are coping with flooding, closed roads and power outages as they assess damage from Hurricane Florence. The storm is blamed for at least 23 deaths, and life-threatening floods are expected to continue all this week, the National Weather Service says.

"As of this morning, North Carolina has 17 confirmed deaths due to this storm," Gov. Roy Cooper said in an update at noon ET on Monday. An additional six deaths have been reported in South Carolina.

The tragic toll in North Carolina includes a toddler who died in Union County; Kaiden Lee-Welch, 1, was swept away from his mother, whose car had been overcome by floodwaters. The local sheriff's office said Kaiden's mother had apparently driven around barricades on Highway 218. A prolonged search and rescue operation led to the recovery of the boy's body Monday.

Particularly in eastern North Carolina, conditions "remain extremely dangerous," Cooper said. He added: "Don't drive around barricades. We're seeing this happen now, and the result is not good."

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For many towns in the state, "the danger is still immediate," Cooper said, despite the promise of clearing skies as rainy weather finally starts to leave the state.

Emergency crews have rescued 2,600 people and more than 300 animals, Cooper said. He added that there are currently more than 14,000 evacuees in shelters in his state.

With the full picture of the disaster still emerging, Moody's Analytics has estimated the cost of Hurricane Florence's damage at between $17 billion and $22 billion, making it one of the 10 most costly hurricanes in U.S. history. The bulk of that figure is in property losses; lost economic output accounts for $1 billion to $2 billion of the total.

In Pollocksville, N.C., a task force team from New York City is helping stranded residents, using boats to patrol streets that have become waterways.

Flooded roads forced officials to plan to airlift food into Wilmington, near where Florence made landfall early Friday. North Carolina's Emergency Management agency said it delivered "23 truckloads of MREs and bottled water to Wilmington overnight."

"There are no roads ... that are leading into Wilmington [N.C.] that are passable because of the flooding," Mayor Bill Saffo told member station WHQR on Sunday.

More than 1,100 North Carolina roads remained closed on Monday, including parts of I-95 and I-40, the N.C. Department of Transportation said. Parts of I-95 were also closed in South Carolina, along with a number of highways in the eastern portion of the state. The S.C. DOT reports more than 150 road closures related to high floodwaters.

Wilmington Deputy Fire Chief Jon Mason — who spent Sunday night sleeping on the floor in his office — told NPR's Morning Edition that the rain has stopped in his town — "but it's still a bit chaotic, lots of trees down, power lines down."

The recovery effort is underway, Mason said. And emergency crews have performed more than 250 water rescues in the past 48 hours, with local fire crews teaming up with Indiana Task Force 1, a FEMA task force.

Calls for help came via phone calls, texts, Facebook messages and other means, Mason said.

Some 460,000 customers in North Carolina and 10,000 in South Carolina are without power. Many schools remain closed or have delayed opening times — prolonging a disruption that began in many places last Tuesday, when evacuation orders took effect.

Images from beaches along the coastline show devastated dunes — their sand spread flat over streets and yards. In one striking photo, two houses were left standing on their pilings — but the dunes in front of them have vanished.

Thousands of people are in shelters in North Carolina. More than 2 feet of rain has fallen in some areas, and many rivers hadn't yet reached their crest on Monday, as they struggle to deal with four days of heavy rain from the large Category 1 hurricane.

"Most main-stem rivers across central N.C. will flood," the National Weather Service office in Raleigh said on Monday, adding, "the Neuse, Cape Fear, Haw, Deep, Rocky and Little Rivers are currently in flood."

The Cape Fear River at Fayetteville is forecast to hit a crest height of nearly 62 feet — far above the 59 feet it hit during Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

Florence, which is now a tropical depression, devastated homes with its storm surge and strong winds. Its torrential rains also brought flooding that cut off hundreds of vital roads and highways — including Interstate 95 — complicating relief efforts and frustrating evacuees who have sought to return to coastal areas.

Hundreds of thousands of people obeyed evacuation orders along the Carolina coast. Some of them tried to return home on Sunday, only to be stymied by closed roads, as creeks and rivers continued to flood.

Along Highway 74 — one of the main arteries that connects Wilmington to inland areas — member station WFAE's David Boraks reports:

" I found Joe Jacob sitting on the curb with his dog at a closed gas station at a crossroads in Bolton, in Columbus County.<br><br>" 'Cause you can't go anywhere. Simple as that. It's flooded out everywhere. We were trying to get back home from Raleigh," he said. "Just gonna hang out, just gonna have to wait.<br><br>"He was right — you couldn't go anywhere. At that moment, roads in all four directions were flooded in some way."
"Due to flooding in southern, central and eastern N.C.," the state's transportation agency told motorists they should "not travel through these parts of the state."

In Kinston, where water overran the banks of the Neuse River in the city in eastern North Carolina, a crowd of people gathered on Riverbank Road to look at the changed landscape of Neuseway Nature Park.

"Lots and lots of water. Like, you can't see the swings anymore," Lashieka Becton said, describing the scene to NPR's Brakkton Booker. "You can't see the parking lot anymore, just ... I don't know what to think."

At Mother Earth Brewing, educators Tori and Wes Hazelgrove told Brakkton that they're tired of this storm.

"We're just kind of in a period of waiting to see like, how bad is it going to get," said Wes Hazelgrove, who said he spent days preparing for the storm. "It's like a period of being in limbo."

Farther inland, flooding hit "a number of roads" in Durham County, N.C., Monday morning, the sheriff's department said. The agency said more than a dozen roads were closed because of high water.

In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster has lifted all evacuation orders for the state, but residents still face delays and detours as they try to find roads to take them home, and farmers report finding their crops inundated with floodwater.

Outside Myrtle Beach, a stretch of the normally busy Highway 501 was reopened early Monday. But closer to the coast, work crews were hoping a flood barrier would make the road — or at least half of it — safe to use.

On Monday, President Trump declared a major disaster in South Carolina, listing eight counties: Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester, Georgetown, Horry, Marion, Orangeburg and Williamsburg.

The president had already issued a similar declaration for North Carolina, easing the flow of federal aid to the states. Cooper said 18 North Carolina counties have been declared disaster areas, with more likely to follow.

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