Dams in Danger in North Carolina; Florence Death Toll Rises to 12 in the State

Ron Brackett
Published: September 17, 2018

Some residents of Creston, North Carolina, were evacuated from their homes Sunday night when a dam appeared close to failure. Less than an hour later, another emergency was reported at a levee in Landis.

Late Sunday night, rescuers were searching for a 1-year-old child who had been swept away, WSOC reported, after a car was trapped by floodwaters from Richardson Creek on Pleasant Hill Church Road in Union County. Rescuers said the child's mother was also swept from the car, a WCCB reporter tweeted. She was rescued and taken to the hospital.

Shortly before 8 p.m., the Ashe County emergency manager reported the imminent failure of the Headwaters Dam in the Headwaters subdivision of Creston, the National Weather Service reported. The alert said the dam was in danger of being breached, and it said people downstream of 5010 3 Top Road were being asked to evacuate.

About 9 p.m., local law enforcement officials reported that the dam was still in danger of failing, but there was no indication yet that it had breached. People were being evacuated. Creston is about 25 miles north of Boone, near the Virginia state line.

At 8:45 p.m., Rowan County emergency officials reported a partial breach of the Lake Corriher levee in Landis, which is about 34 miles northeast of Charlotte. The Landis Police Department said in a Facebook post that water was about 4 feet above the emergency spillway at Lake Corriher. Water was about 3 feet above the spillway at neighboring Lake Landis.

However, this threat of a partial breach of the Lake Corriher levee has now ended, according to the National Weather Service.

A CSX train derailment in Lilesville may have been caused after flooding washed out the tracks. In a statement, CSX officials said several railcars derailed about 6 p.m. Personnel on the train were taken to a hospital with minor injuries.

Earlier in the day floodwaters from Tropical Depression Florence has entirely cut off the North Carolina city of Wilmington, prompting officials to call for additional help from state law enforcement and the National Guard.

During a Sunday news conference, Woody White, chairman of the board of commissioners of New Hanover County, said additional rainfall Saturday night made roads into the city impassable.

"Our roads are flooded," he said. "There is no access to Wilmington."

He said water and food would be flown into the city that is home to about 120,000 people. 

Early Sunday morning, it wasn't flooding that affected the studios of WWAY-TV in Wilmington; rather, it was a tornado reported nearby that made employees clear the studio and seek shelter. After the storm passed, the station tweeted that everyone was OK and a small leak in the ceiling was the only damage.

The storm's rainy siege persisted Sunday in the Old North State, leaving entire towns swamped and residents needing rescue from their inundated homes.

The storm has claimed at least 12 lives in North Carolina, along with six in South Carolina, bringing the overall death toll to 18.

(MORE: Learn More about the People Claimed by Florence)

Gov. Roy Cooper said in a Sunday afternoon news conference that "900 people have been saved" in ongoing swift-water rescues throughout the state. He noted that there is "significant damage in eastern" North Carolina, saying the "risk to life is rising with the waters."

"The storm has never been more dangerous than it is now," he said. "Many rivers are still rising and are not expected to crest until later today or tomorrow."

Waters Rising in Charlotte

In and around Charlotte, people trapped in their homes have prompted numerous multiple water rescues, especially on the south side of the city, where 20 roads were closed, according to the National Weather Service. Further east, in Union County, nearly 100 roads were underwater and at least two water rescues were underway Sunday afternoon. 

A flash flood emergency was announced for Mecklenburg County, while a curfew from 7 p.m. Sunday until 7 a.m. Monday was implemented in Union County. 

(MORE: Check the Latest Florence Forecast)

Saturday afternoon, evacuations of all homes within a mile of the Cape Fear River were ordered in Cumberland County, Fayetteville and Wade, the Fayetteville Observer reported. The Associated Press estimated 7,500 people were impacted by the evacuation order.

Officials in Harnett County issued a mandatory evacuation for areas along the Lower Little River, the local government announced Saturday morning on the county's Facebook page. Authorities went door-to-door Saturday morning, telling residents to get out ahead of the river's expected rise, which could crest at 17 feet above flood stage, the county also said.

It wasn't immediately clear how many residents this evacuation order impacted. Harnett County is home to more than 125,000 residents.

Some 600 roads in the state were impacted by flooding, the North Carolina Department of Transportation said Sunday.

Flooding led to the closure of a huge stretch of Interstate 95 from north of Fayetteville all the way north to U.S. 64 – a span of about 60 miles of the freeway. Officials told drivers to avoid I-95 entirely, and advised them to instead go west into Tennessee and take I-75 through Georgia, WTVR.com reported.

"This is an extremely long detour, but it is the detour that offers the lowest risk of flooding at this time," said the DOT.

(MORE: How Long the River Flooding Will Last)

By Saturday afternoon, the city of New Bern said it had completed rescues of all of the nearly 500 people who were trapped in their homes by floodwaters. New Bern, a city of about 30,000 residents, saw significant storm surge flooding after the Neuse River overflowed its banks and swept into the town.

Across the state, more than 800,000 homes and businesses were without power at the height of the outages, North Carolina Emergency Management said. By Sunday afternoon, those outages had declined to fewer than 620,000.

Carteret County Public Schools said on its Facebook page that it will not have classes in the upcoming week, as many of the county's school buildings were damaged by the storm. Schools will also remain closed all week in Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender counties.

Google has launched its crisis map so residents can find shelters and stay updated on the latest road closures, among other information.

Information Released About the Storm's Victims

Officials began to release information about the storm's victims on Saturday.

A husband and wife died in a Fayetteville house fire on Friday, the state's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said. A mother and her 8-month-old child were killed when a massive tree crushed their brick house Friday, according to a tweet from Wilmington police.

(MORE: Firefighters Kneel in Prayer After Storm Deaths in Wilmington)

An 81-year-old man died while trying to evacuate Wayne County on Friday, the state's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said.

A 78-year-old man was electrocuted in the rain while trying to connect extension cords for a generator, Lenoir County, North Carolina spokesman Bryan Hanks said. A 77-year old man died after he went outside to check on his hunting dogs and was blown down, Hanks said.

Pender County Emergency Management Director Tom Collins said a woman died Friday from a heart attack after calling 911 about a medical emergency. Because of storm debris, Collins said, rescuers were unable to get to the woman before she passed away.

Three people died in Duplin County because of "flash flooding and swift water on roadways," the Duplin County Sheriff's Office said on its Facebook page.

A 3-month-old child died from injuries sustained when a tree fell on the family's mobile home at Gaston County, Commissioner Tracy Philbeck told Fox 46.

Florence Survivors Wish They Evacuated

At 7:15 a.m. Friday morning, Florence made landfall at Wrightsville Beach with 90-mph winds, heavy surf and torrential rain that triggered flooding and knocked down trees and power lines. Many who chose to stay in their homes during the storm said afterward that they wish they chose to evacuate.

Among those who said they should've obeyed evacuation orders was Tom Ballance, a New Bern restaurant owner who rode out several previous hurricanes at his home on the Neuse River.

"I feel like the dumbest human being who ever walked the face of the Earth," Ballance told the AP.

(MORE: Why Florence's Track Was So Weird)

Sadie Marie Holt, 67, told the AP she stayed for doctor's appointments that were canceled at the last minute. She tried to row out of her neighborhood Thursday night with a boat that was in her yard after her home began to flood, but had to retreat because of the poor conditions.

"The wind was so hard, the waters were so hard that, trying to get out, we got thrown into trailers. We got thrown into mailboxes. Houses. Trees," Holt said.

In the town of Jacksonville, officials said the Triangle Motor Inn had to be evacuated early Friday morning after the structure began to sustain damage from the storm, according to the Jacksonville Daily News. Firefighters noticed the cinderblock structure was crumbling and removed all 60 people inside the hotel a little at about 1 a.m. Friday morning, the report added.

All 60 people were taken to the Jacksonville Center for Public Safety and no injuries were reported, the Daily News also said.

Damaged Homes, Beach Erosion in Emerald Isle

The town of Emerald Isle, in Carteret County, said in a news release that several homes had blown-out windows and doors, others were damaged by falling trees and a "very small number of homes" had significant structural damage that made the house uninhabitable.

Low-lying homes on the Bogue Sound side of the island, which saw significant flooding, have water in lower levels. On the ocean side, the town has significant beach erosion and has lost most of the initial frontal dunes, the release said.

There are no known dune breaches, and the town's extensive system of dunes, promoted by significant beach nourishment efforts in the past, appears to have effectively protected the oceanfront structures and infrastructure.

(MORE: Nuclear Plants Shut Down Ahead of Florence)

The news release said numerous trees were damaged and some fallen trees were blocking roads.

Pender County, home to Topsail Beach and Surf City, asked residents not to return on Friday, and a curfew from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. will remain in place until further notice. County officials said many roads remained blocked by fallen trees, downed power lines and debris.

Scenes of storm surge washing over roads and sloshing into houses on the state's beaches played out all Thursday afternoon, including on Avon Beach and on Carolina Beach.

On Saturday, evacuation orders were lifted for parts of the Outer Banks and residents began to file back in. Officials required all returning residents to show identification to prove they live on the barrier islands; visitors were still told to stay out of the area.


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