Death toll rises following disastrous flooding in North Carolina
Emergency crews are still looking for two people after rising floodwaters hit Hiddenite Family Campground in Alexander County, North Carolina.
North Carolina's governor issued a statewide state of emergency declaration Friday as the death toll from severe flooding that wreaked havoc across the state on Thursday continued to rise.
“This storm has already claimed several lives, and everyone should exercise caution by avoiding flooded roads and areas along swollen creeks and rivers,” Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement. “Our prayers go out to the families and friends of those who were injured or killed by these devastating floods.”
Flood warnings remained in effect for a large part of the state on Friday, including Raleigh, and many roads were still closed.
One of the hardest-hit areas was at the Hiddenite Family Campgrounds in Alexander County, where floodwaters rose to deadly levels as heavy rainfall, some it the result of Tropical Storm Eta, brought widespread flooding to the Southeast on Thursday. The deluge unleashed inches of rainfall within mere hours in some areas of the state, prompting water evacuations and washing out roadways and bridges.
Videos showed cars nearly submerged at the campground and one story homes turned into islands in the floodwaters from the South Yadkin River near the campground. One of the structures was submerged nearly up to its roof and others saw waters up to their windows. Debris ranging from campers to sheds floated down the swollen river, WCNC in Charlotte reported.
Swiftwater rescue personnel evacuated at least 31 people from the campground on Thursday morning, but five people were reported missing, four adults and a one-year-old child. By the time rescue personnel ended their search on Thursday, three of the victims had been recovered.
On Friday, Alexander County officials said search and rescue crews found the body of an adult victim at around 11:30 a.m. EST. The body of the infant was found a few hours later, around 4 p.m., according to authorities. This brings the death toll to five at the campsite.
At least 12 people have been reported dead due to the flooding. In addition to the five victims at the campgrounds, a motorist was killed on Hopewell Church Road in the Vashti community relating to a bridge outage and high water, according to the Alexander County website.
A fatality was confirmed by the Wake County Sheriff's Office in the town of Rolesville, located about 16 miles to the northeast of Raleigh. The body of a juvenile was found after authorities responded to a report of a drowning. The child had reportedly been playing near an overflowed creek, the sheriff's office said.
The New York Times, citing the North Carolina Highway Patrol, said two people were killed in Iredell County when their vehicle hydroplaned on Highway 115 and collided with an oncoming vehicle. The two victims, both male, were not wearing seatbelts.
An emergency management spokesperson told the Times that three fatalities were reported elsewhere in the state on Friday. Two people were killed in Rockingham County while another flood-related death was reported in Person County.
Elsewhere in Alexander County, footage surfaced of a roadway collapsing live on-air, according to Fox 46. Rescue crews also responded to an incident on Thursday where a car had been swept off the road in Morganton, North Carolina.
Hundreds of roadways, including several major interstates, were closed or partially closed for a time. "As of Friday morning, the N.C. Department of Transportation reported more than 430 state-maintained road closures," the governor's office said.
Damage assessments will be conducted in the coming days to determine if areas qualify for state or federal disaster declarations, officials said.
About 60 miles southeast of the campground, more than 140 people were rescued from a charter school. Video from the Charlotte Fire Department showed cars almost fully submerged in floodwaters in the parking lot of the Corvian Community Elementary School where the evacuations occurred. The school is located northeast of downtown Charlotte and sits close to nearby Mallard Creek. No injuries were reported, according to the fire department.
"We had a number of cars where the water was rising rapidly ... we made the call to go ahead and start evacuating the school," one CFD official told WSOC TV. "At this time, 143 students and staff have been safely evacuated."
One parent told the news station that this was her kindergartener's first day going to school, making the evacuation "his first kindergarten experience ever."
"Charlotte picked up over 4 inches in about four hours from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dave Houk said. "When rain like that comes, the water doesn't have time to soak into the ground and just runs off and pools and can cause streams and rivers to quickly rise and breach their banks," he said.
Deep moisture, some of which broke away from Eta, has combined with a front to bring heavy rain and flooding, Houk added.
At Charlotte-Douglas Airport, a total of 4.62 inches was measured, setting a new daily record for the city. The previous record for Nov. 12 is 1.78 inches from 2006. According to WCNC in Charlotte, the rain also set a new all-time monthly record for the wettest day, breaking the previous record of 3.26 inches from November 1985. It is also the 13th wettest day on record for Charlotte, according to the news station.
For comparison, Charlotte typically receives about 3.14 inches on average during the month of November.
Motorists encountered a number of road closures in the area. Interstate 277 was rendered nearly impassible and looked more like a river during the Thursday morning commute around Charlotte.
A 36-hour rainfall amount of 9.82 inches was measured at Rocky Mount–Wilson Regional Airport by 7 p.m. Thursday. The airport is located about 50 miles east of Raleigh. More than 5.2 inches fell at Winston-Salem's Smith Reynolds Airport.
Flash flood warnings and watches stretched from South Carolina to Maryland's Eastern Shore Thursday morning, but for one part of the Carolinas, the most severe flood warning was issued.
Flash flood warnings and areal flood warnings (bright green) were in effect for much of North Carolina through Thursday morning. Flash flood watches (dark green) were issued for other areas.
A flash flood emergency was ordered for Hickory, Newton and Conover, North Carolina, located in the west-central part of the state, and home to a population of more than 150,000. The emergency expired after 9:15 a.m.
Emergency management reported at least 20 roads closed due to flooding in the area of the flash flood emergency.
"Move to higher ground now! This is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation. Do not attempt to travel unless you are fleeing an area subject to flooding or under an evacuation order,” the NWS said when it issued the emergency.
Officials also warned of rising river levels, including several that were forecast to reach major flood stage.
"Major flooding is forecast along the Neuse River and Contentnea Creek and moderate flooding is forecast along the Cashie, Dan, Cape Fear, Northeast Cape Fear, Lumber, Tar, South Fork Catawba, Yadkin and South Yadkin Rivers," the governor's office said Friday.
Major river and creek flooding was already reported in spots across North Carolina Thursday. The Catawaba River at Lookout Shoals Dam passed major flood stage of 106 feet and was as high as 108.3 feet Thursday afternoon. It was still shy of the record height of 114 feet set on Aug. 30, 1940.
Another flash flood emergency was issued at noon and was in effect until 5 p.m. for the area around Lookout Shoals Lake, which is about 50 miles to the northwest of Charlotte.
After the drenching storm system moved out, drier conditions were in place for Friday and Saturday, benefitting ongoing cleanup efforts. However, showers will push back into the region on Sunday, ahead of a potent cold front. While these showers are unlikely to dump heavy rain on the scale of last week's event, they could briefly hinder some clean-up efforts.
Keep checking back on AccuWeather.com and stay tuned to the AccuWeather Network on DirecTV, Frontier and Verizon Fios.
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