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City and State Officials Scramble in the Wake of Florence

Cars try to navigate a flooded road leading to Interstate 40 in Castle Hayne, N.C., after damage from Hurricane Florence cut off access to Wilmington, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Flooding from Hurricane Florence severed land route access to the port city of Wilmington, North Carolina, Sunday and shrinking fuel supplies threatened the region’s water plant. State officials were working on reaching the city via ocean routes and in high-water vehicles, North Carolina Health News reports — and their efforts were echoed up and down the southeastern coast as cities braced for surges and flash floods from the so-called “storm of a lifetime.”

Wilmington city leaders also coordinated an airlifted delivery of food and water Sunday, although existing distribution centers needed to be relocated, because severe rainstorms had rendered them inaccessible, CBS News reports.

Although Woody White, chairman of the board of commissioners of New Hanover County, initially declared on Sunday, “There is no [land] access to Wilmington,” by late Monday James Trogdon, the state’s Department of Transportation Secretary, said one major access route has reopened to the city. It was closed to all but emergency crews.

In New Bern, North Carolina, meanwhile, city officials coordinated the rescue of 200 people trapped in their homes, according to CNN.

“WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU,” the city tweeted. “You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU.”

Officials later sent out thanks to the many organizations that made the rescue efforts possible.

The storm has dumped up to 30 inches of rain in some places and left 523,000 homes and businesses without power. At least 23 fatalities have been reported.

The mayor of Fayetteville, North Carolina, issued a dire warning this weekend urging residents to leave.

“If you are refusing to leave during this mandatory evacuation, you need to do things like notify your legal next of kin because the loss of life is very, very possible,” Mayor Mitch Colvin said Saturday, according to the Asheville Citizen Times.

But certain people in mandatory evacuation zones have not been able to leave, the State reports.

Despite being located in a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood zone, the occupants of the Al Cannon Detention Center in Charleston County, South Carolina will not be allowed to evacuate. The jail houses many inmates who have not been convicted — only charged — and are awaiting bond hearings, according to the State. In 2016, that detention center made headlines for housing a large number of undocumented immigrants as part of a partnership with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

North Carolina’s Attorney General has been investigating price gouging complaints as residents evacuate and shelter in place. On Sunday, the lawmaker told CBS News that his office had received about 500 complaints alleging excessive prices for hotels, gas and water.

Regulators were also attempting to monitor hog farms and coal ash dumps, which could contaminate stormwater flowing to nearby cities, the Associated Press reports. Around Wilmington, however, environmental inspections have been compromised due to flooded roads. The coal ash dumps pose a particular concern because they contain heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and mercury.

Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.

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Tags: disaster planningfloodinghurricane florence