‘Everything is gone:’ Bahamians struggle in Dorian’s devastating wake death toll 20

Patients and their families crowd the entrance of the Marsh Harbour Medical Clinic in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian on the Great Abaco island town of Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Dante Carrer

By Nick Brown

NASSAU, Bahamas (Reuters) – Stunned residents of the Bahamas surveyed the wreckage of their homes and officials struggled to assess the number killed by Hurricane Dorian, as the storm bore down on the South Carolina coast, threatening record flooding on Thursday.

The United Nations said 70,000 people in the Bahamas needed immediate humanitarian relief after the most damaging storm ever to hit the island nation.

Aerial video of the worst-hit Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas showed widespread devastation, with the harbor, shops, workplaces, a hospital and airport landing strips damaged or decimated, frustrating rescue efforts.

One of the most powerful Caribbean storms on record, Dorian was rated a Category 5 hurricane when it killed at least 20 people in the Bahamas. Authorities expect that number to rise, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said at a news briefing, as retreating floodwaters revealed the scope of destruction.

“My island of Abaco, everything is gone. No banks, no stores, no nothing,” said Marsh Harbour resident, Ramond A. King as he surveyed the wreckage of his home, which had its roof ripped off and debris scattered throughout. “Everything is gone, just bodies.”

With telephones down in many areas, residents posted lists of missing loved ones on social media. One Facebook post by media outlet Our News Bahamas had 2,500 comments, mainly listing lost family members.

Hurricane Dorian's destruction is seen on the Marsh Harbour in Abaco Islands, Bahamas, September 4, 2019 in this photo grab obtained from a social media video by Reuters on September 5, 2019. Ramond A King via REUTERS

Hurricane Dorian’s destruction is seen on the Marsh Harbour in Abaco Islands, Bahamas, September 4, 2019 in this photo grab obtained from a social media video by Reuters on September 5, 2019. Ramond A King via REUTERS

Dorian killed one person in Puerto Rico before hovering over the Bahamas for two days with torrential rains and fierce winds that whipped up 12- to 18-foot (3.7- to 5.5-meter) storm surges.

POSSIBLE RECORD SURGE

South Carolina was preparing for a record storm surge, potentially reaching a height of 8 feet (2 meters) at the popular vacation destination of Myrtle Beach, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in an advisory.

The storm was located about 70 miles (115 km) south-southeast of Charleston, South Carolina, at 8 a.m. EST (1200 GMT) on Thursday and was headed north-northeast at about 8 miles per hour (13 kph), the NHC said. It was packing 115 mph (185 kph) winds.

About a foot (30 cm) of rain will drop on flood-prone Charleston and many parts of the coasts of the Carolinas on Thursday and Friday, said Bob Oravec, a forecaster with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

“It’s pretty substantial,” he said early Thursday. “It’s already raining heavy in Charleston and up and down the coast.”

More than 185,000 homes and businesses were without power along the South Carolina and Georgia coastal areas, according to the tracking site poweroutage.us.

The streets of downtown Charleston were all but deserted early Thursday as driving rain and strong winds lashed the city.

On South Battery Street, a block away from the water, Brys Stephens and his family worked hard to keep the water away from a large gray home with white verandas along the front, the type of home that has made Charleston famous and is a major tourist draw.

He was working to reattach metal flood gates to a sturdy high wall fronting the property.

“The gates worked pretty well so far and we’ve managed to keep water away from the house,” Stephens said. “But we’ve got another storm surge coming later on, so we’ll see then if it holds.”

The NHC’s storm surge warning covered parts of the coasts of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina stretching from the Savannah River and extending to southern Virginia.

More than 2.2 million people in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina have been ordered to evacuate, although Florida has avoided a direct hit.

Damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian on the Great Abaco island town of Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Dante Carrer

Damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian on the Great Abaco island town of Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Dante Carrer

RELIEF EFFORTS

An international relief effort was underway for the Bahamas, with a British Royal Navy vessel providing assistance and Jamaica sending a 150-member military contingent to help secure Abaco and Grand Bahama, officials said.

Volunteers also ferried supplies to the islands in a flotilla of small boats.

“Let us give of our best in this moment of historic tragedy,” Minnis said.

He also encouraged international tourists to visit the Bahamas, which relies heavily on its hospitality industry.

As many as 13,000 homes in the Bahamas may have been destroyed or severely damaged, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.

Norwegian energy company Equinor said it had discovered a spill on the ground outside tanks at its damaged storage terminal in the Bahamas, but was unclear on volumes and had not seen any oil at sea.

The State Department said it did not believe any U.S. citizens who were in the Bahamas during the storm were killed.

President Donald Trump said the United States was sending supplies, including materials originally intended for any Dorian victims in Florida.

(Reporting by Nick Brown in Nassau, Bahamas, additional reporting by Nick Carey in Charleston, South Carolina, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Rebekah Ward in Mexico City, Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico and Rich McKay in Atlanta, writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Peter Graff and Bernadette Baum)

Bahamas in crisis after Hurricane Dorian flattens homes, food scarce

An aerial view shows devastation after hurricane Dorian hit the Grand Bahama Island in the Bahamas,September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

By Dante Carrer

MARSH HARBOUR, Bahamas (Reuters) – Survivors of Hurricane Dorian on Wednesday picked through the wreckage of homes ripped open by fierce winds, struggled to fuel generators and queued for food after one of the most powerful Caribbean storms on record devastated parts of the Bahamas.

The most damaging storm to strike the island nation, Dorian killed at least seven people, but the scope of the destruction and a humanitarian crisis was still coming into focus as aerial video of the Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas showed wide devastation.

Dozens of people took to Facebook to search for missing loved ones, and aid agencies estimated that tens of thousands of people out of the Bahamas population of 400,000 would need food and other support.

An aerial view shows devastation after hurricane Dorian hit the Grand Bahama Island in the Bahamas,September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

An aerial view shows devastation after hurricane Dorian hit the Grand Bahama Island in the Bahamas,September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

“We are in the midst of one of the greatest national crises in our country’s history,” Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told a news conference. “We can expect more deaths to be recorded. This is just preliminary information.”

LaQuez Williams, pastor at Jubilee Cathedral in Grand Bahama, opened the church as a shelter for about 150 people. As the storm ground on, Williams said that from the higher ground of the church he could see people on their rooftops seeking refuge.

“They were calling for help, but you could not go out to reach,” Williams said. “It was very difficult because you felt helpless.”

Aerial video of Great Abaco Island showed miles of flooded neighborhoods littered with upturned boats and shipping containers scattered like toys. Many buildings had walls or roofs partly ripped off.

“Victims are being loaded on flatbed trucks across Abaco,” one Twitter user with the handle @mvp242 said, describing a rain-blurred photograph of limp bodies strewn across a truck bed.

Other posts on Twitter said entire communities were swept away. Photographs from the airport at Freeport showed a light plane torn in two, with hangars badly damaged and scattered debris.

After rampaging through the Caribbean as one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded, Dorian’s wind speeds dropped on Tuesday to make it a Category 2 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson intensity scale. It maintained that level on Wednesday, but forecasters warned it was still dangerous.

Some minor flooding occurs on the bridges from the beach towards communities from Hurricane Dorian in Jacksonville, Florida, U.S. September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Maria Alejandra Cardona

Some minor flooding occurs on the bridges from the beach towards communities from Hurricane Dorian in Jacksonville, Florida, U.S. September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Maria Alejandra Cardona

DANGER FOR U.S. COAST

Residents of coastal Florida, Georgia and South Carolina were preparing for Dorian’s approach on Wednesday, with the National Hurricane Center warning it could make landfall in South or North Carolina on Thursday or Friday.

South Carolina officials said they were expecting storm surges of four to eight feet and wind gusts of 90 mph (140 kph) on Thursday, and told people to evacuate the coast as Dorian drew closer.

“It’s getting here a little weaker than it could have but now it’s gotten here,” Governor Henry McMaster said at a news conference. “Time to get out is running out.”

Florida avoided a direct hit from Dorian.

“We certainly got lucky in Florida, and now if we could get lucky in Georgia, in North Carolina, in South Carolina,” President Donald Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.

People crept back into Jacksonville Beach as Florida appeared to be escaping the worst of the storm, with a couple of people seen surfing by its pier on Wednesday morning.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp extended a state of emergency to cover 21 counties as the storm tracked north towards its coast. The emergency covers more than 900,000 Georgia residents, of whom over 400,000 have been ordered to evacuate, according to the state Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency.

Dorian had sustained winds near 105 miles per hour (165 kph) as it churned about 90 miles (140 km) northeast of Daytona Beach, Florida around midday on Wednesday, the NHC said.

Hurricane-force winds had expanded to 60 miles (100 km) from the storm’s core.

Heavy rains and storm-surge waters moving inland could cause life-threatening flash floods, the NHC said. The risk extended from Jupiter, Florida, to Surf City, North Carolina. Tornadoes were possible along the Florida coast, with the risk later moving to Georgia and South Carolina.

BAHAMAS BATTERED

With many telephones down on Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, residents posted lists of missing loved ones on social media sites.

A single Facebook post by media outlet Our News Bahamas seeking the names of missing people had 2,000 comments listing lost family members since it went live on Tuesday, although some of the comments were also about loved ones being found.

Janith Mullings, 66, from Freeport, Grand Bahama, said she had been through hurricanes all her life but had never seen anything like Dorian.

“We’ve never had hurricanes in none of our islands that have experienced the ocean rising like it did. The ocean was something no one could prepare for,” she said.

As many as 13,000 homes in the Bahamas may have been destroyed or severely damaged, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.

“It’s heartbreaking …,” said Caroline Turnquest, director general of Bahamas Red Cross. “We know from what we’ve been seeing and hearing, that this one will require the help of all the persons.”

Food may be required for 14,500 people in the Abaco Islands and for 45,700 people in Grand Bahama, the U.N. World Food Programme said.

The State Department said it did not believe any U.S. citizens who were in the Bahamas, a popular tourist destination, during the storm were killed.

U.S. Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection personnel have airlifted 61 people from the northern Bahamas to the capital Nassau over two days, the U.S. Embassy said.

(Reporting by Dante Carrer in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, additional reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Jacksonville, Florida, Gabriella Borter in Titusville, Florida, Peter Szekely, Jonathan Allen and Matthew Lavietes in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta, Writing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Cynthia Osterman and Grant McCool)

Recovery on Bahamas begins as Hurricane Dorian heads for Florida, Carolinas

An aerial view shows devastation after hurricane Dorian hit the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, September 3, 2019, in this image obtained via social media. Michelle Cove/Trans Island Airways/via REUTERS

By Dante Carrer

MARSH HARBOUR, Bahamas (Reuters) – Debris extended for miles and floods covered much of the Bahamas in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, in what the archipelago’s prime minister called one of the worst disasters to ever strike the island nation.

Emergency workers struggled to reach victims as search and rescue operations continued into Wednesday and the scope of the damage and humanitarian crisis unfolded.

“We are in the midst of one of the greatest national crises in our country’s history,” Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told a news conference. “No effort or resources will be held back.”

News media reported early on Wednesday that some storm victims remained stuck on rooftops, waiting for rescue. The official death count of seven is expected rise in the coming days.

An aerial view shows devastation after hurricane Dorian hit the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, September 3, 2019, in this image obtained via social media. Michelle Cove/Trans Island Airways/via REUTERS

An aerial view shows devastation after hurricane Dorian hit the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, September 3, 2019, in this image obtained via social media. Michelle Cove/Trans Island Airways/via REUTERS

“We can expect more deaths to be recorded. This is just preliminary information,” Minnis told a news conference.

“Marsh Harbor has suffered, I would estimate, in excess of 60 percent damage to their homes,” Minnis said, referring to the port on Great Abaco.

“The Mud, as we know, has been completely destroyed or decimated,” he said referring to a shantytown known as the Mud and the Peas.

Aerial video of the Bahamas’ Great Abaco Island showed miles of flooded neighborhoods, pulverized buildings, upturned boats and shipping containers scattered like toys. Many buildings had walls or roofs partly ripped off.

“Victims are being loaded on flatbed trucks across Abaco,” said one Twitter poster with the handle @mvp242, describing a rain-blurred photograph of limp bodies strewn across a truck bed. Other Twitter messages said whole communities were swept away.

Dorian’s winds had diminished to a Category 2 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson intensity scale, the hurricane grew in size and picked up speed.

Forecasters said it would come dangerously close to Florida’s east coast on Wednesday, where more than a million people have been ordered evacuated.

Dorian packed sustained winds of 105 miles per hour (165 kph) and was moving north-northwest at 8 mph, as it churned about 90 miles east of Daytona Beach, Florida, the NHC said in a 5 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT) advisory.

“On this track, the core of Hurricane Dorian will move dangerously close to the Florida east coast and the Georgia coast through tonight,” a 5 a.m. NHC advisory said.

Hurricane-force winds had expanded to 60 miles from the storm’s core. “Dorian is expected to remain a powerful hurricane during the next couple of days,” the NHC said.

Heavy rains and storm surge waters moving inland could cause life-threatening flash floods, the NHC said. The risk extended from Jupiter, Fla., to Surf City, N.C. Tornadoes are possible along the Florida coast until tonight, with the risk later moving to Georgia and South Carolina.

An aerial view shows devastation after hurricane Dorian hit the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, September 3, 2019, in this image obtained via social media. Michelle Cove/Trans Island Airways/via REUTERS

An aerial view shows devastation after hurricane Dorian hit the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, September 3, 2019, in this image obtained via social media. Michelle Cove/Trans Island Airways/via REUTERS

LONG LISTS OF MISSING

With telephones down on Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, residents posted lists of missing loved ones across social media.

A single Facebook post by media outlet Our News Bahamas seeking the names of missing people had 1,600 comments listing lost family members since it went live on Tuesday morning.

The exact toll in the Bahamas will not be clear until the storm passes and rescue crews can get to devastated areas, said Theo Neilly, the Bahamian consul general in Washington.

“We expect it to be very devastating and the damage to be extreme,” Neilly said. Dorian has battered the Bahamas for the past three days.

As many as 13,000 homes in the Bahamas may have been destroyed or severely damaged, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said, in the strongest storm ever to hit the Bahamas.

Food may be required for 14,500 people in the northern Bahamas’ Abaco Islands and for 45,700 people in Grand Bahama, the U.N. World Food Programme said in a statement. The preliminary estimates were based on an assessment by representatives of Caribbean nations, the WFP and other groups.

The U.S. Agency for International Development said on Twitter it was air-lifting critical relief items, such as plastic sheeting, hygiene kits, and water containers, from Miami to the Bahamas. The U.S. Coast Guard said four of its helicopters were assisting in humanitarian efforts.

Dorian, which killed one person in Puerto Rico before striking the Bahamas on Sunday, is tied for the second-strongest Atlantic storm to make landfall with Gilbert (1988), Wilma (2005) and the 1935 Labor Day hurricane.

Tropical-storm-force winds and rain squalls were already lashing parts of the Florida coast early on Wednesday, and hurricane-force winds are possible today. The winds and heavy surf is likely to hit the Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina coasts by late on Thursday. More than a million people were ordered to evacuate coastal counties in those states.

President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for South Carolina on Tuesday, freeing funds, other federal resources and manpower to assist during the storm and aftermath recovery. Emergencies have already been declared in Florida and Georgia.

(Reporting by Dante Carrer in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas; Zachary Fagenson in Jacksonville, Florida; Gabriella Borter in Titusville, Florida; Peter Szekely and Matthew Lavietes in New York;, Rich McKay in Atlanta; Idrees Ali in Washington: Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; and and Rebekah F. Ward in Mexico City; editing by Larry King)

Dorian to hit Bahamas as ‘devastating’ hurricane, then menace Georgia and Carolinas

Hurricane Dorian is seen from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA's GOES-East Satellite, over the Atlantic Ocean, August 31, 2019 in this handout image obtained from social media. NOAA/Handout via REUTERS

By Zachary Fagenson

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Reuters) – Hurricane Dorian punched northwest on Saturday to threaten Georgia and the Carolinas, possibly sparing Florida a direct hit, as the Bahamas braced for catastrophic waves and wind from the muscular category 4 storm.

Florida towns told residents to remain vigilant despite forecasts they might dodge a Dorian landfall, as a tropical storm watch was issued for the state’s south Atlantic coast.

Communities in northeast Florida, Georgia and South Carolina raised alert levels, with residents filling sandbags as authorities tested infrastructure and hurricane drills. South Carolina on Saturday joined Georgia, North Carolina and Florida in declaring a state of emergency.

Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis begged residents of Abaco and Grand Bahamas to head for the main island to escape the “devastating, dangerous” storm.

Hurricane Dorian is seen from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA-42 WP-3D Orion aircraft during a reconnaissance mission over the Atlantic Ocean, August 30, 2019 in this handout image obtained from social media. Picture taken August 30, 2019. LCDR Robert Mitchell/NOAA/Handout via REUTERS

“I want you to remember: homes, houses, structures can be replaced. Lives cannot be replaced,” Minnis told a news conference, adding that 73,000 people and 21,000 homes were at risk to storm surges of up to 15 feet (4.6 meters).

At 5 p.m. ET (2100 GMT)The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Dorian was packing maximum sustained winds of 150 mph (240 kph) and would hit the Bahamas on Sunday with more than two feet of rainfall in places, threatening deadly flash floods.

Dorian could then veer northwest and possibly remain at sea as it moved up the U.S. eastern seaboard late on Monday through Tuesday, the NHC said.

A tropical storm watch was issued for a more than 120-mile stretch (193 km) of Florida coast from Deerfield Beach to around Palm Bay, meaning sustained winds of up to 73 mph (117 kmh)were possible within 48 hours.

North Carolina authorities warned residents Dorian was heading their way, while counterparts in Florida told towns to remain alert.

“While obviously for us it’s a better forecast, we can’t assume that there’s not going to be hazardous weather,” said Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber.

BAHAMAS ON SUNDAY

Central Florida towns urged residents to remain alert after past hurricanes like 1992’s Andrew slammed the Bahamas and then barreled straight into the peninsula’s southeast coast.

“Don’t start taking down your shutters, don’t start disassembling your emergency plan,” said Eric Flowers, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office in Indian River County.

On Tybee Island, a Georgia coastal barrier island, authorities put out sand for sandbags to protect against possible flooding in the marshy area.

“Our biggest concern is storm surge because the tides are really high right now,” said the manager of a local restaurant, who asked not be named as he was not authorized to speak to media.

Further north, Dorchester County in South Carolina raised its alert level to make sure infrastructure and public safety crews were ready for the hurricane in the area near the historic city of Charleston.

North Carolina Emergency Management (NCEMA) said the storm was forecast to keep moving in the state’s direction for the next 48 hours.

“Now is the time to prepare and assemble disaster supplies,” said Katie Webster, an NCEMA meteorologist, urging people to prepare a week’s supply of food and water.

(Reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Jacksonville, Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Additional reporting by Daniel Wallis in New York; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Franklin Paul)

Hurricane Michael tears Florida towns apart, 6 dead

An American flag flies amongst rubble left in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida, U.S. October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

By Devika Krishna Kumar

MEXICO BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) – Hurricane Michael’s violence was visible on Thursday in shattered Florida coastal towns, where rows of homes were ripped from foundations and roofs were peeled off schools by the near-record-force storm blamed for six deaths.

Michael smashed into Florida’s northwest coast near the small town of Mexico Beach on Wednesday with screeching 155 mile per hour (250 kilometer per hour) winds, pushing a wall of seawater inland.

“The wind was really tearing us apart. It was so scary you’d poo yourself,” said retiree Tom Garcia, 60, who was trapped inside his Mexico Beach home as water poured in to waist height.

He and his partner Cheri Papineau, 50, pushed on their door for an hour in an effort to stop the storm surge bursting in as their four dogs sat on top of a bed floating through their home.

Video shot by CNN from a helicopter showed homes closest to the water in Mexico Beach had lost all but their foundations. A few blocks inland, about half the homes were reduced to piles of wood and siding and those still standing had suffered heavy damage.

Michael, the third most powerful hurricane ever to hit the U.S. mainland, weakened overnight to a tropical storm and pushed northeast on Thursday, bringing drenching rains to Georgia and the Carolinas, which are still recovering from Hurricane Florence last month.

Rubble left in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael is pictured in Mexico Beach, Florida, U.S. October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Rubble left in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael is pictured in Mexico Beach, Florida, U.S. October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Michael killed at least six people in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina from falling trees and other hurricane-related incidents, officials and local media said.

The injured in Florida were taken to hospitals in Tallahassee, with some hurt after the storm by breaking tree limbs and falls, said Allison Castillo, director of emergency services at the city’s Capital Regional Medical Center.

Brock Long, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, called Mexico Beach, which has a population of about 1,200, “ground zero” for the hurricane damage.

In Panama City, 20 miles (32 km) northwest of Mexico Beach, buildings were crushed and boats were scattered around. Michael left a trail of utility wires on roads, flattened tall pine trees and knocked a steeple from a church.

Al Hancock, 45, who works on a tour boat, survived in Panama City with his wife and dog.

“The roof fell in but we lived through it,” he said.

Nearly 950,000 homes and businesses were without power in Florida, Alabama, the Carolinas and Georgia on Thursday.

DAMAGE ‘WAY WORSE’ THAN EXPECTED

Florida Governor Rick Scott told the Weather Channel the damage from Panama City down to Mexico Beach was “way worse than anybody ever anticipated.”

At Jinks Middle School in Panama City, the storm tore off part of the gym roof and one wall, leaving the wooden floor covered in water. A year ago the school welcomed students and families displaced by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

Rubble left in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael is pictured in Mexico Beach, Florida, U.S. October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Rubble left in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael is pictured in Mexico Beach, Florida, U.S. October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

“The kids live nearby. The second floor of some apartments are just gone. Roofs are gone,” Principal Britt Smith told CNN after talking by phone with some of those who did not evacuate.

Michael, a Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane intensity scale when it came ashore, was causing flash flooding on Thursday in parts of North Carolina and Virginia, where some areas could get as much as 9 inches (23 cm) of rain, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

By 2 p.m. EDT (1600 GMT), the storm had pushed northeast to within 25 miles (40 km) of Greensboro, North Carolina, carrying 50-mph (85-kph) winds, the NHC said.

The number of people in emergency shelters was expected to swell to 20,000 across five states by Friday, said Brad Kieserman of the American Red Cross.

‘ROOF-HIGH’ FLOODING

Michael pummeled communities across the Panhandle and turned streets into roof-high waterways.

Twenty miles (32 km) south of Mexico Beach, floodwaters were more than 7 feet (2.1 meters) deep near Apalachicola, a town of about 2,300 residents, hurricane center chief Ken Graham said. Wind damage was also evident.

“Our biggest thing is the downed lines and the downed trees and now this water main issue,” said Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson, referring to a burst water main complicating efforts to restore power.

Brad Rippey, a meteorologist for the U.S. Agriculture Department, said Michael had severely damaged cotton, timber, pecan and peanuts, causing estimated liabilities as high as $1.9 billion and affecting up to 3.7 million crop acres (1.5 million hectares).

Michael also disrupted energy operations in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico as it approached land, cutting crude oil production by more than 40 percent and natural gas output by nearly one-third as offshore platforms were evacuated.

With a low barometric pressure recorded at 919 millibars, a measure of a hurricane’s force, Michael was the third strongest storm on record to hit the continental United States, behind only Hurricane Camille on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1969 and the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 in the Florida Keys.

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Panama City, Florida; Additional reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar in Tallahassee, Florida; Gina Cherelus and Scott DiSavino in New York; Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Gary McWilliams and Liz Hampton in Houston, Andrew Hay in New Mexico and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Frances Kerry and Bill Berkrot)

Former Hurricane Michael heads northeast after trashing Florida

Waves crash on stilt houses along the shore due to Hurricane Michael at Alligator Point in Franklin County, Florida, U.S., October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Steve Nesius

By Rod Nickel

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Michael took its drenching rains to Georgia and the Carolinas on Thursday after battering Florida’s Panhandle as the third most powerful hurricane ever to strike the U.S. mainland and killing at least two people.

Michael shattered houses and buildings, downed power lines and ripped up trees when it crashed ashore on Wednesday afternoon, carrying winds of up to 155 miles per hour (250 kilometers per hour) and causing deep seawater flooding.

Emergency crews work to clear a street of debris during Hurricane Michael in Panama City Beach, Florida, U.S. October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Emergency crews work to clear a street of debris during Hurricane Michael in Panama City Beach, Florida, U.S. October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Residents and officials were taking stock of the damage on Thursday.

“I think everything from Panama City down to Mexico Beach is way worse than anybody ever anticipated,” Florida Governor Rick Scott told the Weather Channel. Michael’s eye came ashore near Mexico Beach, about 20 miles (32 km) southeast of Panama City.

“This is going to be a long recovery but Florida is resilient, we help each other, and we survive,” Scott said. “We worked all night in endangered circumstances.”

It was not yet known what had happened to about 280 residents of Mexico Beach who authorities said had ignored evacuation orders as the storm approached the state’s northwest. The area is known for its small beach towns, wildlife reserves and the state capital, Tallahassee.

Michael was a Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane intensity scale, just shy of a rare Category 5, when it came ashore. It weakened steadily as it traveled inland over the Panhandle.

By 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT) Thursday it had been downgraded to a tropical storm with 50-mph (85-kph) winds as it pushed through Georgia into the Carolinas, the National Hurricane Center said.

Parts of North Carolina and Virginia could get as much as 9 inches (23 cm) of rain and life-threatening flash floods, the NHC said. The Carolinas are still recovering from Hurricane Florence last month.

The two people killed in the storm were a man who died when a tree toppled onto his house in Florida and a girl who died when debris fell into a home in Georgia, officials and local media said.

More than 830,000 homes and businesses were without power in Florida, Alabama and Georgia early Thursday.

A McDonald's sign damaged by Hurricane Michael is pictured in Panama City Beach, Florida, U.S. October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

A McDonald’s sign damaged by Hurricane Michael is pictured in Panama City Beach, Florida, U.S. October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

‘SURREAL’ WIND

The hurricane, the fiercest to hit Florida in 80 years, pummeled communities across the Panhandle and turned streets into roof-high waterways.

“The wind that came through here was surreal. It destroyed everything,” Jason Gunderson, a member of a group of rescue workers that calls itself the Cajun Navy, told CNN early on Thursday from Callaway, a suburb of Panama City.

“It’s unlivable. It’s heartbreaking.”

Thousands of people hunkered down in shelters overnight after fleeing their homes ahead of the storm.

An estimated 6,000 people evacuated to emergency shelters, mostly in Florida, and that number was expected to swell to 20,000 across five states by week’s end, said Brad Kieserman of the American Red Cross.

Twenty miles (32 km) south of Mexico Beach, floodwaters were more than 7 feet (2.1 meters) deep near Apalachicola, a town of about 2,300 residents, hurricane center chief Ken Graham said. Wind damage was also evident.

“There are so many downed power lines and trees that it’s almost impossible to get through the city,” Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson said.

Michael had rapidly intensified as it churned north over the Gulf of Mexico in recent days, growing from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane in about 40 hours and catching many by surprise.

With a low barometric pressure recorded at 919 millibars, the measure of a hurricane’s force, it ranked as the third strongest storm on record to make landfall in the continental United States. Only Hurricane Camille on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1969 and the so-called Labor Day hurricane of 1935 in the Florida Keys were more intense.

U.S. President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for all of Florida, freeing federal assistance to supplement state and local disaster responses.

About 3,500 Florida National Guard troops were deployed, along with more than 1,000 search-and-rescue personnel, Governor Scott said.

Even before landfall, the hurricane disrupted energy operations in the Gulf, cutting crude oil production by more than 40 percent and natural gas output by nearly one-third as offshore platforms were evacuated before the storm hit.

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Panama City, Florida; Additional reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar in Tallahassee, Florida; Susan Heavey, Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton in Washington; Gina Cherelus and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Liz Hampton in Houston, Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Writing by Steve Gorman and Bill Trott; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Frances Kerry)

Flooding on the horizon for South Carolina, a week after Florence

A closeup of flooded homes and roads near the River Landing Country Club, in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, is seen in this satellite image over the area in Wallace, North Carolina, U.S., September 20, 2018. Satellite image ©2018 DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company/Handout via REUTERS

By Anna Mehler Paperny

KINSTON, N.C. (Reuters) – Residents in Georgetown County, South Carolina, where five rivers flow into the ocean, will prepare on Friday for a deluge of water in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, which has killed more than 40 people.

Lying on Atlantic Ocean between Myrtle Beach and Charleston, the county of about 60,000 people is one of several areas across the Carolinas waiting anxiously for rivers to crest, a week after Florence dumped some three feet of rain in the region.

Flooding could begin early next week, officials said during a community meeting on Thursday. The city of Georgetown on Friday will hand out 15,000 sandbags as the county develops plans to evacuate residents.

Local residents walk along the edge of a collapsed road that ran atop Patricia Lake's dam after it collapsed in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, in Boiling Spring Lakes, North Carolina, U.S., September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Local residents walk along the edge of a collapsed road that ran atop Patricia Lake’s dam after it collapsed in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, in Boiling Spring Lakes, North Carolina, U.S., September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

“Please heed the warnings,” Sheriff Lane Cribb said. “Protecting lives and property will be our goal … You better pray. I think we all need to pray that it don’t happen.”

More than three dozen flood gauges in North and South Carolina showed flooding. Some rivers had still not crested by Friday morning, according to the National Weather Service.

Thirty-one deaths have been attributed to the storm in North Carolina, eight in South Carolina and one in Virginia.

Michael Ziolkowski, a Field Operations Supervisor for the National Disaster Response K-9 Unit and his partner, Morty, are transported to support relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Spring Lake, North Carolina, September 16, 2018. Spc. Austin T. Boucher/U.S. Army/Handout via REUTERS

Michael Ziolkowski, a Field Operations Supervisor for the National Disaster Response K-9 Unit and his partner, Morty, are transported to support relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Spring Lake, North Carolina, September 16, 2018. Spc. Austin T. Boucher/U.S. Army/Handout via REUTERS

Some 4,700 people across North Carolina have been rescued by boat or helicopter since the storm made landfall, twice as many as in Hurricane Matthew two years ago, according to state officials. About 10,000 remain in shelters.

The coastal city of Wilmington, North Carolina, remained cut off by floodwaters on Thursday. More than 200 roads across the state were closed or blocked as residents. Over 60,000 customers were without power in North Carolina early on Friday, according to Poweroutage.us.

As floodwaters continue to rise, concerns are growing about the environmental and health dangers lurking in the water.

The flooding has caused 21 hog “lagoons,” which store manure from pig farms, to overflow in North Carolina, creating a risk that standing water will be contaminated, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Quality. North Carolina is one of the leading hog-producing states in the country.

Several sewer systems in the region also have released untreated or partly treated sewage and storm water into waterways over the last week, local media reported.

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Kinston, North Carolina; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Conway, South Carolina, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Scott DiSavino in New York and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; writing by Dan Whitcomb; editing by Larry King)

Hurricane Florence makes landfall, set to inundate Carolinas

Water from Neuse River floods houses as Hurricane Florence comes ashore in New Bern, North Carolina, September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

By Ernest Scheyder

WILMINGTON, N.C. (Reuters) – Hurricane Florence, weakened but still dangerous, crashed into the Carolinas on Friday as a giant, slow-moving storm that stranded residents with floodwaters and swamped part of the town of New Bern at the beginning of what could be a days-long deluge.

The center of the hurricane’s eye came ashore at about 7:15 a.m. EDT (1115 GMT) near Wrightsville Beach close to Wilmington, North Carolina, with sustained winds of 90 miles per hour (150 kph), the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

Flood waters are seen in Belhaven, North Carolina, U.S., September 14, 2018 in this still image from video obtained from social media. Courtesy of Ben Johnson/via REUTERS

Flood waters are seen in Belhaven, North Carolina, U.S., September 14, 2018 in this still image from video obtained from social media. Courtesy of Ben Johnson/via REUTERS

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said Florence was set to cover almost all of the state in several feet of water.

As of Friday morning, Atlantic Beach, a town on North Carolina’s Outer Banks barrier island chain, already had received 30 inches (76 cm) of rain, the U.S. Geological Service said.

On the mainland in New Bern, authorities said more than 100 people had to be saved from floods and that the downtown area was underwater. The town’s public information officer, Colleen Roberts, told CNN 150 more people were awaiting rescue and that citizens were going out in their

boats to help, despite blowing waters and swift currents.

“WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU,” New Bern city officials said on Twitter. “You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU.”

There were no immediate reports of storm-related deaths or serious injuries but more than 60 people, including many children and pets, had to be evacuated from a hotel in Jacksonville, North Carolina, after strong winds caused parts of the roof to collapse, local officials said.

National Weather Service forecaster Brandon Locklear predicted Florence would drop up to eight months’ worth of rain in two or three days.

More than 440,000 homes and businesses were without power in North and South Carolina early on Friday, utility officials said. Utility companies said millions were expected to lose power and that restoring it could take weeks.

The roof of a house is seen affected by winds from Hurricane Florence as it hits the town of Wilson, North Carolina, U.S., September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

The roof of a house is seen affected by winds from Hurricane Florence as it hits the town of Wilson, North Carolina, U.S., September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Florence had been a Category 3 hurricane with 120 mph winds on Thursday but dropped to Category 1 before coming ashore. But forecasters said its extreme size meant it could batter the U.S. East Coast with hurricane-force winds for nearly a full day.

It is expected to move across parts of southeastern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina on Friday and Saturday, then head north over the western Carolinas and central Appalachian Mountains early next week, the NHC said. Significant weakening is expected over the weekend.

About 10 million people could be affected by the storm and more than 1 million were ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia.

Almost 20,000 people had taken refuge in 157 emergency shelters, Cooper said.

Emergency declarations were in force in Georgia, South and North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Still, some residents ignored calls to evacuate.

“I had a lot of fear initially but I’m glad to be inside and safe,” said Zelda Allen, 74, a retired tax accountant from Hampstead, North Carolina, who was riding out the storm at Wilmington’s Hotel Ballast with her husband.

“I’m worried about what I might find when I go home, though,” she said.

 

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Additional reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Nick Zieminski)

Invasion of big, voracious lizards threatens U.S. South: study

A black and white Tegu lizard is shown in the Florida Everglades in this photo obtained August 2, 2018. Courtesy Emma Hanslowe/USGS/Handout via REUTERS

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – A group of South American lizards that can grow up to four feet long (1.2 meters) has established a home in the Florida wild after being brought to the United States as pets, and the reptiles could begin a voracious march across the U.S. South, according to a new study.

Tegu lizards, which currently live in two large colonies in Florida, could expand into an area from the Carolinas to Central Texas, according to the scientific report published in July on the website for the journal Nature.

“They are voracious, omnivorous predatory lizards that can live in a variety of habitats, but we can’t know what is going to happen or how intense this invasion is going to become until the effects are upon us,” said Lee Fitzgerald, a professor at Texas A&M University and curator of its Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections.

Fitzgerald, a co-author of the study, said in an interview this week it could take years for the tegu lizards to reach their potential range, but new hot spots pop up as more pet lizards escape or are dumped in the wild by owners.

There are no current estimates of wild populations of tegus in the United States. In South America, the large-bodied lizards range widely east of the Andes and include species such as the Argentine black and white tegu.

Armed with strong jaws and tails that they can wield as thumping weapons, the lizards in Florida devour the eggs of American alligators and ground-nesting birds, wildlife officials said. The reptiles also have a taste for insects, fruit, and birds.

“As far as being a damaging invasive species, it really depends on what the threatened resources are in the areas where you might get tegus,” said Robert Reed, chief of the Invasive Species Science Branch at the U.S. Geological Survey, and another report co-author.

Tegu owners describe their pets as big, calm and occasionally affectionate lizards that like sunning themselves and are not picky about what they eat. But they can also be ornery and tough to handle.

In Florida, local wild populations of breeding tegu lizards are found in at least two counties, Miami-Dade and Hillsborough, home to Tampa, while there have been sightings in other parts of the state, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

On private lands, Florida hunters without a license are allowed to kill tegu lizards if it is done humanely. On public lands, the state is trying to get rid of the lizards through traps.

“The most important thing that the public can do to stop the spread of nonnative species like tegus is to NEVER release nonnative animals into the wild,” commission specialist Jamie Rager said in an email. “Don’t let it loose.”

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Sandra Maler)