'This feels like a nightmare that just won’t end': Anxious evacuees can't return home as dangerous flooding persists in Florence's aftermath

By Kevin Byrne, AccuWeather staff writer
September 20, 2018, 4:29:05 PM EDT

Nearly a week after Florence’s initial landfall in the Carolinas, the worst of the flooding is still unfolding as rivers that have hit major flood stage still have not crested.

At least 16 rivers are at major flood stage in North Carolina although some have already begun to recede. Florence dropped 2-3 feet of rain in portions of southeastern North Carolina, including nearly 36 inches in Elizabethtown, North Carolina, which is the storm's highest total.

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Kenny Babb looks out over the water on his flooded property as the Little River continues to rise in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Linden, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018.

(Photo/North Carolina Department of Transportation)

A stranded truck is nearly completely submerged in floodwaters in Brunswick County, North Carolina

(Photo/North Carolina Department of Transportation)

Interstate 95 near Lumberton, North Carolina, remained closed on Tuesday, Sept. 18.

(Photo/North Carolina Emergency Management)

Successful search & rescue missions were conducted by the Cary, NC, swift water rescue team in Harnett County.

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Kenny Babb walks down a staircase into the water on his flooded property as the Little River continues to rise in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Linden, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018.

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Dianna Wood, embraces her husband Lynn, as they look out over their flooded property in Linden, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018.

(AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

People use a road as a boat ramp after Hurricane Florence struck the Carolinas Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, in Conway, S.C.

(AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

A man tries to get his dog out of a flooded neighborhood in Lumberton, N.C., Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.

(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

The Lumber River overflows onto a stretch Interstate 95 in Lumberton, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018, following flooding from Hurricane Florence.

(AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, left, and U.S. Army Lt. Col. John McElveen look on as rescues take place inChesterfield County, South Carolina on Monday, Sept. 17, 2018.

(Photo/Asheville Fire Department)

Aerial imagery captures the extent of flooding around the Asheville, North Carolina, area.

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Cars sit abandoned on a flooded street in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Lillington, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018.

(AP Photo/Meg Kinnard

This Monday, Sept. 17, 2018 photo shows rising flood waters in the Pee Dee area in Marion County, S.C.

(Photo/North Carolina Department of Transportation)

This drone image shows Interstate 40 at Pender County, North Carolina, completely submerged.

(Reuters photo/Eduardo Munoz)

Sheds sit in flooded waters due to Hurricane Florence in Kinston, North Carolina, U.S., September 19, 2018.

David Goldman

The home of Kenny Babb is surrounded by water as he retrieves a paddle that floated away in Linden, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018.

(AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

Floodwaters inundate a church after Hurricane Florence struck the Carolinas Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, in Conway, S.C.

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

David Darden Jr., left, stands outside his mother's home with his wife Pam as they evacuate her in the aftermath of Florence in Spring Lake, N.C., Monday, Sept. 17, 2018.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

A resident stands on her pier looking out onto the rising Waccamaw River in Conway, S.C., Monday, Sept. 17, 2018.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

A house is surrounded by floodwaters from Hurricane Florence in Lumberton, N.C., Monday, Sept. 17, 2018.

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"Some rivers in the midlands and coastal areas of the Carolinas, such as the Cape Fear, Neuse, Pee Dee, Lumber, Little Pee Dee and Waccamaw may not crest until later this weekend or early next week and are likely to remain above flood stage through the end of September," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski stated.

As some rivers slowly rise, so does the death toll, which stands at 41 across North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, according to the Associated Press. The fatalities include two detainees in South Carolina who drowned in the back of a Horry County Sheriff's Office vehicle when it encountered high water.

The sheriff's office posted a statement on Twitter Wednesday saying the two officers who were transporting the victims would be placed on administrative leave as an investigation into the deaths took place. The victims were identified as Windy Newton, 45, of Shallotte, North Carolina, and Nicolette Green, 43, of Myrtle Beach.

More than 750 roads remain closed in North Carolina on Thursday, including parts of Interstates 95 and 40, according to the North Carolina Department of Transportation. That number is down from over 1,000 on Wednesday and 2,200 earlier in the week.

Over 2,200 people been rescued in addition to almost 600 animals. Several hundred thousand remain without power, although Duke Energy said it had restored power to nearly 1.5 million customers.

“Days after Florence first hit our state, we continue to feel the effects of this massive storm,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said. “Even though there is no substantial rain in the forecast and the sun may be shining across many parts of our state, rivers continue to rise and we will see more flooding."

Officials said additional crews were being directed into southern counties where the flooding is the most severe to help remove debris.

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North Carolina Department of Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon told residents not to return to New Hanover, Brunswick or Pender counties as travel conditions are not safe.

Officials in Brunswick County tweeted Wednesday morning to evacuees that it wasn't safe to return yet.

Cooper urged people to remain vigilant around creeks, rivers and standing water. He also stressed patience to those who remain away from their homes.

“I know it was hard to leave home, and it is even harder to wait and wonder whether you even have a home to go back to,” he said. “I know for many people this feels like a nightmare that just won’t end,” he said, according to the AP.

“Right now, we must keep our attention on the safety of those still in danger and getting food, water, medicine and supplies into areas that are stranded,” Cooper said.

Cooper and other officials were out helping to distribute supplies in some of the hardest-hit locations like Wilmington. State, local and federal officials have been able to distribute supplies to many in need. More than 15,000 people remain in 144 shelters.

In some inundated communities, like Lumberton, North Carolina, the flooding is an all-too-familiar nightmare. The town, located near the Lumber River, is experiencing flooding worse than what Hurricane Matthew brought in 2016.

Local officials have called for upgrades to existing infrastructure such as dams and levees, according to the Washington Post.

Charles Gregory Cummings, mayor of nearby Pembroke, North Carolina, told the Post that he wants to clear local swamps and canals of fallen trees and debris from previous storms like Matthew, which would help floodwaters drain quicker.

“This can’t keep happening to us,” said Cummings. “We know what to do, but we need help.”

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