BLADENBORO, N.C. (AP) — Thousands of coastal residents remained on edge Sunday, told they may need to leave their homes because rivers are still rising more than a week after Hurricane Florence slammed into the Carolinas.
About 6,000 to 8,000 people in Georgetown County, South Carolina, were alerted to be prepared to evacuate ahead of a “record event” of up to 10 feet (3 meters) of flooding expected from heavy rains dumped by Florence, county spokeswoman Jackie Broach-Akers said. She said flooding is expected to begin Tuesday near parts of the Pee Dee and Waccamaw rivers and that people in potential flood zones should plan to leave their homes Monday.
The county’s emergency management director, Sam Hodge, said in a video message posted online that authorities are closely watching river gauges and law enforcement would be going door to door in any threatened areas.
“From boots on the ground to technology that we have, we are trying to be able to get the message out,” Hodge said in the video feed, advising people they shouldn’t await an official order to evacuate should they begin to feel unsafe.
In North Carolina, five river gauges were still at major flood stage and five others were at moderate flood stage, according to National Weather Service. The Cape Fear River was expected to crest and remain at flood stage through the early part of the week, and parts of Interstate 40 are expected to remain underwater for another week or more.
Parts of Interstate 95 had also been expected to be underwater for days, but North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced Sunday night that the major highway has been reopened to all traffic, as floodwaters had withdrawn faster than expected.
Floodwaters already receding on one stretch of Interstate 40 left thousands of rotting fish on the pavement for firefighters to clean up. Video showed firefighters blasting the dead fish off the highway with a fire hose in Pender County in eastern North Carolina. The local fire department posted online: “We can add ‘washing fish off of the interstate’ to the long list of interesting things firefighters get to experience.”
North Carolina Emergency Management Director Michael Sprayberry said that eastern counties continue to see major flooding, including areas along the Black, Lumber, Neuse and Cape Fear rivers.
“Florence continues to bring misery to North Carolina,” Cooper said in a statement Sunday evening. He added that crews conducted about 350 rescues over the weekend and that travel remains treacherous in the southeastern area of his state. But he said National Guard members would be shifting next to more door-to-door and air search wellness checks on people in still-flooded areas.
The storm has claimed at least 43 lives since slamming into the coast Sept. 14.
In Washington, Congress is starting to consider almost $1.7 billion in new money to aid recovery efforts from Florence. Lawmakers already are facing a deadline this week to fund the government before the start of the new budget year Oct. 1, and members of Congress are expected to try to act on the disaster relief along with separate legislation to fund the government.
The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee said the money would be available as grants to states to help rebuild housing and public works, as well as assist businesses as they recover from the storm. GOP Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey called that “a first round” and said lawmakers are ready to act quickly if the federal disaster relief agency also needs more money.
An economic research firm estimated that Florence has caused around $44 billion in damage and lost output, which would make it one of the top 10 costliest U.S. hurricanes. The top disaster, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, cost $192.2 billion in today’s dollars, while last year’s Hurricane Harvey cost $133.5 billion. Moody’s Analytics estimates Florence has caused $40 billion in damage and $4 billion in lost economic output, though the company stressed that the estimate is preliminary.
In other developments, at least three wild horse herds survived Florence on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, but caretakers were still trying to account for one herd living on a hard-hit barrier island, the News & Observer reported Sunday. Staff members are planning to make trips to the island this week to check on the Shackleford Banks herd.
Elsewhere in North Carolina, state environmental officials also said they’re closely monitoring two sites where Florence’s floodwaters have inundated coal ash sites .
Waggoner and Robertson reported from Raleigh, North Carolina. Also contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina; Meg Kinnard in Galivants Ferry, South Carolina; Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Virginia; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama and Michael Biesecker in Washi