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"We're not through this storm": Florence rescues by air, boat and foot

Renee Garcia shot photos of flooding on Highway 258 headed towards Jacksonville, North Carolina. Courtesy: Renee Garcia/Facebook/CNN

Updated: 9:56 p.m. September 15, 2018

WILMINGTON, North Carolina -- The rain will not let up on North Carolina's coast for another 24 hours -- and the preliminary rainfall totals so far are staggering.

The National Weather Service says more than 30 inches of rain were measured in Swansboro, North Carolina -- shattering the state's tropical cyclone rainfall record of more than 24 inches -- set during Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Officials warn some rivers are approaching historic flood levels, and the worst devastation may be still to come.

The death toll from Florence climbed Saturday to at least 12. Some have been killed by fallen trees -- others have died on flooded roads.

Nearly one million homes and businesses in the Carolinas have lost power. On Saturday, the mayor of Wilmington said it could take weeks to restore electricity.

President Trump and Vice President Pence received updates on the storm at the white house today. The president plans to travel to North Carolina sometime soon.

Despite a mandatory evacuation, many Jacksonville residents stayed home, CBS News correspondent Adriana Diaz reports. That means some saw flood waters rise around them. Crews that were supposed to be clearing streets of debris on Saturday were rerouted to help with rescues.

Volunteers brought boats, but air support had to be called in. Coast Guard helicopters flew through the rain to reach people on Saturday in homes too remote for rescue boats.

CBS News watched as Guardsmen were deployed to the ground. They said they have been pulling people from homes, from roofs.

"Yeah, just people that flag us down or really need help," said one Guardsman.

Most evacuations were by boat. CBS News found this family looking for any neighbors who might need help.

They said the neighborhood flooded fast. "Man, it was pretty quick -- I woke up, to it was halfway up the street and about two hours later we was worried about it coming into our house," said the father.

The National Guard, first responders, and volunteers rescued dozens of people who live in low-lying areas of Onslow County, where the worst flooding is chest-deep.

Cali Sterling lives in a dry part of the county, but rushed here to help. She said it's "pretty deep, it's scary, there's cars already going under. There's people freaking out."

Some brought what they could in shopping bags, others cradled wet pets to safety.

"The water is rising fast everywhere, even in places that don't typically flood," said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper. "Many people who think that the storm has missed them have yet to see its threat."

That's why Anthony Love's family is leaving. They've been here for two decades, and this is their first time fleeing floodwater.

"This is the worst it's ever been," Love said. "Luckily we don't have any water in our house but it's getting close."

"We've never seen this before -- never, never, never, not like this," said Philip Johnson. "So that's something, you know, that's going to be like for the history books."

Coast guard helicopters were conducting rescues today in New Bern, an area swamped by yesterday's storm surge. CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann flew along with them.

One by one, stranded Florence victims were hoisted 40 feet into the sky. In all, 13 people, adults and young children, who had gathered in a single flooded home in Jacksonville, North Carolina. An older woman waded through waist-deep water on two crutches, and with help, crawled into the chopper's rescue basket. Like all of them, she was safe.

"We flew with the Coast Guard today as they responded to day two of flooding drama in eastern North Carolina over places like New Bern, recovering from 10 feet of storm surge," said Pilot lieutenant Matt Delahunty.

Friday's stormy weather was too dangerous for most rescue helicopters to fly, but on Saturday, with calmer conditions, Coast Guard air crews plucked dozens of people from flood zones.

Safer flying weather came just in time. Heavy rains and flooding over the next few days could mean more people who end up needing help from a rescue helicopter.

Vice Admiral Scott Buschman flew with us over flooded neighborhoods.

"We're not through this storm," Buschman said. "There's several more days of rain to come. So there may be people who are in distress so my advice to you is to listen to your local emergnecy managers and stay put until it's safe to go outside."

At one shelter, an evacuee had a heart attack. The shelter was surrounded by water, impossible for ambulances to reach. One of these Coast Guard helicopters flew them to a hospital in Raleigh.

One of the areas Mark flew over today was the riverfront city of New Bern.

Drone footage shows parts of New Bern that were submerged by a massive surge of water when Florence made landfall. Hundreds were suddenly stranded in their homes, CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave reports.

James Karcher flagged down the National Guard as we drove through his still flooded New Bern neighborhood.

He'd come home to see what he could save. He's leaving with a duffle bag. He found his house was flooded "totally from the first floor to the third floor."

More than 400 people have been rescued since Florence inundated the city of 30,000 with 10 feet of storm surge and unrelenting rain.

An NYPD team carried this man who was on crutches. Entire neighborhoods were turned into islands. The mayor says more that 4,200 homes and 300 business have been damaged or destroyed.

The water rescues have ended but the National Guard is now going into still flooded areas to make sure everyone is ok.

As the water receded Saturday, neighbors started returning home but some found little to salvage.

Despite the massive damage and daugnting cleanup, Mayor Dana Outlaw is grateful.

"You are talking about a storm knocking you down but not knocking you out? Not at all not this little community," Outlaw said. He choked up as he admitted it's been a touch couple of days.

"I am really thinking and glad that nobody really got seriously hurt," Outlaw said.

While much of the water has receded, there are pockets of New Bern that are still dealing with a lot of water and the rain just keeps coming.

First responders, service members, and the types of heroes who don't wear uniforms have been risking their lives to save others.
Amid the worst floodwaters and rain, rescuers searched for those in need.

Leroy McGee joined Pastor Matthew Drake and members of their church, volunteering to check on homes in their Jacksonville neighborhood.

"I was getting antsy, I couldn't do it any longer, because i knew they needed help," Drake said.

They found two dogs and carried them back to their boat, and to safety.

"That's what i'd want someone to do for us," Drake said.

In New Bern, North Carolina, reporter Julie Wilson helped rescue a dog during a live report.

As rising waters there threatened homes, Sgt. Nick Muhar, from the North Carolina National Guard 1/120th Battalion, carried the smallest member of an evacuating family.

Firefighters in Wilmington, North Carolina responded to the worst of the storm, which claimed the lives of a mother and her infant.

More than 500 people were rescued throughout New Bern and Jacksonville by first responders and volunteers.

Throughout the Carolinas, rescuers responded to Florence by boat and on foot, carrying the most vulnerable to safety.

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Posted: 1:28 p.m. September 15, 2018

NEW BERN, N.C. (AP) — Thousands of people living near North Carolina's rising rivers were ordered evacuated Saturday as hurricane-turned-tropical storm Florence practically parked itself over land and poured on the rain Saturday, raising fears that the state could be in for the most disastrous flooding in its history.

The death toll climbed to at least five.

A day after Florence blew ashore in North Carolina with 90 mph (145 kph) winds, Coast Guard officials reported using helicopters to lift scores of people from rooftops and swamped cars, and rescue crews used inflatable boats to reach others trapped in their swamped homes.

More than 2 feet of rain had fallen in places, and the drenching went on and on, with forecasters saying there could be an additional 1½ feet by the end of the weekend.

Rivers and creeks rose toward historic levels, threatening flash flooding that could devastate communities and endanger dams, roads and bridges.

"I cannot overstate it: Floodwaters are rising, and if you aren't watching for them you are risking your life," Gov. Roy Cooper said.

In its initial onslaught along the coast, Florence buckled buildings, deluged entire communities and knocked out power to more than 870,000 homes and businesses. But the storm was shaping up as a two-part disaster, with the second, delayed-action stage consisting of epic inland flooding, caused by rainwater working its way into rivers and streams.

Authorities ordered an immediate evacuation of an estimated 2,800 homes within a mile of a stretch of the Cape Fear River, plus a section of the Little River, because of what they said was "imminent danger" from floodwaters. The evacuation zone included part of the city of Fayetteville, with a population of 200,000.

Officials in North Carolina's Harnett County, about 90 miles inland, urged residents of about 1,100 homes to clear out because the Lower Little River was rising toward record levels.

In New Bern, along the coast, homes were completely surrounded by water, and rescuers used inflatable boats to reach people. More than 360 people had been carried to safety since Thursday night amid rising waters from a river swelled by both rain and storm surge.

Kevin Knox and his family were rescued from their flooded brick home with the help of Army Sgt. Johan Mackie, part of a team that was using a phone app to locate people in distress. Mackie rode in a boat through a flooded neighborhood, navigating through trees and past a fencepost to get to the Knox house.

"Amazing. They did awesome," said Knox, who was stranded with seven others, including a boy who was carried out in a life vest. "If not we'd be stuck upstairs for the next ... how long? I have no idea."

Across the Trent River from New Bern, Jerry and Jan Andrews returned home after evacuating to find carp flopping in their back yard near the porch stairs. Across the street, Coast Guard helicopters were taking off to rescue stranded people.

Coast Guardsmen said choppers had made about 50 rescues in and around New Bern and Jacksonville as of noon.

The dead included a mother and baby killed when a tree fell on a house in Wilmington, North Carolina. South Carolina recorded its first death from the storm when officials said a 61-year-old woman was killed when her vehicle hit a tree that had fallen across a highway.

At 11 a.m., Florence was centered about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, inching west at 2 mph (4 kph) — not even as fast as a person can walk. Its winds were down to 45 mph (75 kph).

With the eye of Florence stalled near the coast, the half of the storm still out over the Atlantic continued to collect warm ocean water and dump it on land.

Stream gauges across the region showed water levels steadily rising, with forecasts calling for rivers to crest Sunday and Monday at or near record levels. The Little River, the Cape Fear, the Lumber, the Neuse, the Waccamaw and the Pee Dee were all projected to rise over their banks, flooding cities and towns.

Along the Lumber River in Lumberton, workers used heavy machinery to dump extra sand on a railbed prone to flooding.

As of noon, Swansboro, North Carolina, had nearly 31 inches of rain, Emerald Isle had over 23, and Wilmington and Goldsboro had about a foot. North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, had about 7 inches.

Charlotte and Asheville in North Carolina, and Roanoke, Virginia, could also be in for heavy rains as Florence plods inland. Areas like New Bern also could see an additional 3 to 5 feet of storm surge as high tide combines with the seawater still being pushed ashore by Florence, National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said

The storm interrupted a September rite in the South: college football. Schools canceled, postponed, switched sites or changed kickoff times because of Florence. No. 2 Clemson and Georgia Southern had sunny skies and unseasonably mild weather for the only major conference game being played in the Carolinas and Virginia.

The hurricane center said the storm will eventually break up over the southern Appalachians and make a sharp rightward swing to the northeast, its rainy remnants moving into the mid-Atlantic states and New England by the middle of next week.

North Carolina alone is forecast to get 9.6 trillion gallons (36 trillion liters), enough to cover the Tar Heel state to a depth of about 10 inches (25 centimeters).

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AP writers Jonathan Drew in Wilmington; Jeffrey Collins in Fork, South Carolina; Emery P. Dalesio in New Bern; Denise Lavoie and Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Virginia; Gary Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina; Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina; Seth Borenstein and Michael Biesecker in Washington; Martha Waggoner in Raleigh, North Carolina; Jennifer Kay in Miami; Russ Bynum in Columbia, South Carolina; Pete Iacobelli in Clemson, South Carolina, and Jay Reeves in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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For more from the Associated Press on Hurricane Florence, visit https://www.apnews.com/tag/Hurricanes

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