Drownings push hurricane death toll to 19 in flooded North Carolina

Flooding waters of theTar River cover the Riverwalk Apartments due to rainfall caused from Hurricane Matthew in Greenville, North Carolina,

By Nicole Craine

KINSTON, N.C. (Reuters) – Rivers swollen by rainfall from Hurricane Matthew rose dangerously higher in North Carolina on Wednesday, prompting officials to go door to door urging residents to leave as a wide swath of the state faced its worst flooding in 17 years.

Floodwaters have swamped areas across the central and eastern part of the state, where drownings in recent days have brought the death toll to 19.

That figure represents more than half of the deaths in the U.S. Southeast linked to the fierce Atlantic storm, which killed around 1,000 people in Haiti and displaced hundreds of thousands as it tore through the Caribbean last week.

Matthew caused an estimated $10 billion in total U.S. property losses, about $5 billion of which are insured, according to a preliminary estimate by Goldman Sachs.

The damages continue to mount in North Carolina. Flooding has killed up to 5 million poultry birds, most of them chickens, in a blow to the local economy, said North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Donald van der Vaart.

The floodwaters have forced more than 3,800 residents to flee to shelters, closed down stretches of major interstate highways and shuttered 34 school systems, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory told reporters in Raleigh.

Emergency officials rescued dozens of people on Wednesday from flooded homes in areas including Robeson and Pender counties. There were no official estimates as to the number of people and homes still in harm’s way in the state.

Matthew’s aftermath drew comparisons to Hurricane Floyd, which triggered devastating floods in North Carolina in 1999 and caused more than $3 billion in damages in the state.

In Kinston, where the Neuse River is expected to peak on Saturday at almost twice the 14-foot (4.3 meter) flood stage and just shy of the Floyd record, city officials warned residents not to be fooled by the water’s gradual rise.

“It’s not like it’s a tidal wave that’s coming. It’s a slow rise,” city manager Tony Sears said in a phone interview.

But, he added, “in the next 24 hours, it’s not whether I should go or not, it’s when you should go.”

Residents should be prepared to be out of their homes for more than a week, Sears said, with river levels expected to remain elevated into next week.

Nazareth Gray (4) sits on the edge of a cot at the Carver Heights Elementary School shelter after her and her grandmother Margaret (not pictured) were displaced by the effects of Hurricane Matthew in Goldsboro, North Carolina,

Nazareth Gray (4) sits on the edge of a cot at the Carver Heights Elementary School shelter after her and her grandmother Margaret (not pictured) were displaced by the effects of Hurricane Matthew in Goldsboro, North Carolina, U.S. October 12, 2016. REUTERS/Randall Hill

Kinston resident Toby Hatch, 60, who lived through Floyd and Hurricane Irene, which destroyed his home in 2011, heeded the city’s evacuation order this week and headed to a shelter.

“I didn’t really want to leave, but I was already looking at enough water that I was trapped,” he said.

Evacuations also continued in Greenville, where the Tar River was 10 feet (3 meters) above flood stage and forecast to crest even higher by Friday. Flooding has forced the city’s airport to close and classes were canceled for the week for East Carolina University’s 28,000 students.

In Goldsboro, where the Neuse River peaked on Wednesday at a record level, Tony Rouse, 56, had taken refuge at an elementary school with his wife. His home lost power and all the roads leading to it were inundated, he said.

“It’s kind of boring,” he said of life at the shelter, “but it beats not being able to eat.”

(Additional reporting by Gene Cherry; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Bill Trott and Tom Brown)

Threat of Major Flooding Shifts Down Mississippi River

Several communities in the central United States were coping with major flooding on Monday morning as the same deadly floodwaters that devastated parts of Missouri moved downstream.

The National Weather Service issued flood warnings all along the lower Ohio, Mississippi and Arkansas rivers as rising waters threatened countless homes and businesses. In certain communities, waters were expected to continue to climb throughout the month before cresting.

One week after a powerful winter storm dumped 6 to 12 inches of rain across much of the region, waters had yet to fully recede from some of the communities they impacted most.

In greater St. Louis, where often-historic flooding forced evacuations and shut down a bustling stretch of Interstate 44, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said minor flooding was still occurring along parts of the Meramec and Mississippi rivers. Water levels had receded from their record heights in the Missouri communities of Valley Park and Arnold, according to the NOAA, though the flooding had yet to fully stop as of Monday. It could be Saturday before the Meramec finally dropped below flood stage in Arnold., the NOAA said.

Over the weekend, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s announced the federal government approved his request to expedite relief efforts after “fast-rising flood water inundated several thousands homes and business and left behind a trail of destruction, debris and refuse” in greater St. Louis, according to a news release. The governor, who had declared a state of emergency and mobilized the National Guard, said the federal aid would help facilitate the cleanup and recovery process.

As some communities began to clean up, others remained partially underwater.

The NOAA reported there was major flooding occurring at 25 river gauges on Monday morning, while another 197 were experiencing minor or moderate flooding. Almost all of them were in the Mississippi River watershed, with downstream communities at risk of water levels rising further.

Major flooding was already occurring in Cape Girardeau, Missouri and the Illinois communities of Thebes and Chester, the NOAA said, and it could be several days before the flooding reduces in severity. According to Cape Girardeau’s official blog, about 25 homes in the city were either flooded or rendered inaccessible by floodwaters that had closed several of the city’s roads.

As the waters left Missouri, they were expected to arrive in Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

In Natchez, Mississippi, some 580 miles south of St. Louis, the NOAA reported the Mississippi River was already at 49.4 feet, causing minor flooding. The river was expected to rise at least 10 more feet before peaking at 60 feet on January 17, which would spur major flooding issues.

Other areas at risk of major flooding include the Mississippi communities of Vicksburg and Greenville and Arkansas City, Arkansas, according to NOAA projections. The governor of Mississippi, Phil Bryant, preemptively declared a state of emergency amid the threat of floods.

“We are told this flood will be just below the historic record flood of 2011,” Bryant said in a news release. “Our citizens have time to prepare and should begin taking actions now.”

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson’s office said the governor has already declared 38 of the state’s 75 counties disaster areas as a result of storm and flooding damage, and noted the governor could add more counties to the list if the damage calls for the list to be expanded.

The Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness has said it would monitor levels of the Red and Mississippi rivers and assist any affected communities.

Death Toll Rises as Floodwaters Continue to Plague Missouri, Other States

Large portions of the central United States remained under flood warnings on Thursday morning as high waters continued to wreak havoc on dozens of riverside communities.

The National Weather Service issued the warnings for significant swaths of Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri, where floodwaters reached historic levels following a powerful winter storm, but also issued isolated flood warnings throughout the southeast. The service also issued flash flooding watches in large portions of Florida, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

While floodwaters began to recede in many locations, particularly around hard-hit greater St. Louis, they remained at critically high levels. The National Weather Service warned that towns and cities further south along the Mississippi River could experience “significant river flooding” into mid-January as the massive amounts of water flowed downstream, according to its website.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that 365 river gauges remained at flood stages on Thursday, 44 of which were at “major flooding” levels. The river gauges don’t always consider lakes, creeks or streams, many of which also breached their banks.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, who declared a state of emergency and mobilized the National Guard in the wake of the flooding, said the floods are responsible for killing 14 people in the state, according to a news release from his office. The Missouri Department of Transportation said at least 200 roads were submerged statewide early Thursday, according to a news release.

A busy 21-mile stretch of Interstate 44 remained closed near St.Louis, and the statement from Nixon’s office indicated it was the first time floodwaters shut down the road since 1982.

The Meramec River in Valley Park, Missouri, near St. Louis, crested at a record level of 44.11 feet early Thursday, according to the NOAA, which was more than four feet above a 33-year-old record and only the second time the river reached 38 feet in the past century. The river receded slightly to 43.57 feet later Thursday, the NOAA said, but that was still 27 feet above flood stage.

The community ordered those in low-lying areas to evacuate as the waters surged toward historic heights, according to a posting on its Facebook page. The city is protected by a levee, the posting indicates, but there was still “significant flooding” in several portions of the city.

The Meramec River flooding also damaged “hundreds of homes and businesses” in Pacific, Missouri, according to the governor’s office. The city, located upstream from Valley Park, crested just shy of its all-time record, the NOAA said, but that was still 18 feet above flood stage.

As the waters departed Valley Park and Pacific, they arrived further downstream.

NOAA data indicates the Meramec River in Arnold climbed to an all-time high of 47.22 feet on Thursday morning, nearly two feet above the record and roughly 23 feet above flood stage. The city recommended people evacuate because of the danger to residences, according to its website.

The Meramec flows into the Mississippi River, and communities downstream were expected to see waters rise further. In Chester, Illinois, the NOAA said waters were already at 44.26 feet on Thursday, 17 feet above flood stage and its second-highest level ever, and forecasts called for another 3-foot rise this week. Several roads in the city were already closed, its website indicates.

“This historic flooding event will continue to cause significant hazards and disruptions – from Missourians being forced from their homes, to businesses temporarily closing, to traffic congestion and impacts on interstate commerce due to the closure of a major trucking corridor,” Nixon said in a statement. “I thank the many Missourians who are assisting their neighbors by providing rooms in their homes, helping with sandbagging efforts and countless other acts of kindness.”

Missouri wasn’t the only state affected by the extreme weather.

The storm dumped snow, ice and rain throughout Oklahoma, prompting Governor Mary Fallin to extend a state of emergency. The state Department of Emergency Management reported Wednesday evening that five people lost their lives and another 104 were injured in the storm.

Earlier this week, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner said “significant issues related to flooding” had occurred in seven counties and he issued a disaster proclamation for those areas, according to a news release from his office.

Destructive Winter Storm Reaches New England

A powerful and deadly winter storm that brought heavy snow and widespread flooding to the United States continued to travel east on Tuesday morning, leaving more destruction in its path.

The National Weather Service issued winter weather advisories and winter storm warnings in parts of Pennsylvania, New York and New England as the storm was poised to finally exit the country. But the storm’s fury was still being felt across the nation, particularly in the Great Plains and Ohio and Mississippi valleys, where numerous flood warnings remained in effect.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said 438 river gauges across the nation were in flood stage on Tuesday morning, 53 of which were experiencing “major flooding.” Most of them were clustered in the central United States, though a few were in the southeast. In many locations, floodwaters had already reached or were threatening to surpass historic levels.

Fueled by 10 inches of rainfall in the vicinity, the Illinois River near Tahlequah, Oklahoma, reached an all-time high crest of 30.69 feet on Monday, more than 2.5 feet above the previous record that was set 65 years ago, the NOAA reported. The floodwaters had receded to about 21 feet there on Tuesday morning, though that was still more than three feet above the threshold for what is considered major flooding. The NOAA said parts of Texas, Arkansas and Missouri also saw 10 or more inches of rain, including a storm-high 12.25 inches near Union, Missouri. The storm also packed a powerful punch in Illinois, dumping 9.98 inches of rain near Roxana.

Rising waters prompted the mayor of St. Louis to declare a city emergency. Just south of the city in Arnold, the NOAA reported Meramec River was already experiencing major flooding, and was expected to surpass its all-time high level of 45.3 feet later this week. That water flows into the Mississippi River, and the NOAA projected that the further-south riverside communities of Chester, Illinois, and Cape Girardeau, Missouri, were also expected to tie or break local crest records.

That’s just a sampling of the storm’s flooding, and the 438 river gauges do not necessarily cover the lakes or other water bodies causing floods. In southern Missouri, for example, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported that waters at Table Rock Lake rose approximately 17 feet between Monday and Tuesday, fueling a massive release of water into flood-prone Lake Taneycomo. The United States Geological Survey reported that waters at Ozark Beach Dam in Forsyth, some 20 miles away from Table Rock Lake, rose three feet between Monday and Tuesday.

The storm brought more than just flooding and heavy rains.

More than three inches of sleet fell in Iowa and Illinois, the NOAA reported. But an inch was enough to snarl traffic at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, one of the world’s busiest.

Flight monitoring website FlightAware.com reported that 1,366 flights to or from the airport were cancelled on Monday, more than half of the airport’s scheduled traffic. Another 303 flights involving Chicago Midway International Airport were also cancelled, according to FlightAware, and lingering effects of the storm caused an additional 236 cancellations at O’Hare on Tuesday.

According to NOAA data, no place came close to receiving the 41 inches of snow the storm dumped on Bonito Lake, located in a mountain range in New Mexico. But the storm did produce more than nine inches of snow in Oklahoma, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Texas.

The storm knocked out power to tens of thousands in Oklahoma, according to utility companies.

While the storm appears seems to have weakened considerably, it’s still packing a punch. According to the National Weather Service, parts of Maine could receive up to a foot of snow.