Although the torrential rain from Florence may be coming to an end in the Carolinas, the slow-motion disaster of river flooding will continue to wreak havoc across the region for days – or potentially weeks.
It may take up to two weeks for all of the runoff from the storm, which has killed at least 32 people, to drain slowly downstream from the mountains to the coast, forecasters warned. As of midday Monday, 19 river gauges in the Carolinas were at "major" flood stage, the National Weather Service said, and record crests could be challenged or shattered in some communities.
Nearly 20 rivers in the Carolinas were expected to crest in major flood stage this week, the Weather Channel said.
"Just because much of the rainfall has stopped does not mean the danger has ended," the National Weather Service in Wilmington, North Carolina, said Monday.
Officials warned that this could be the worst flooding in the state’s history. "Flooding has become catastrophic in some areas, and access to some communities will only be possible by boat into later this week," AccuWeather meteorologist Mike Doll said. "This is truly a life-threatening situation."
Rivers such as the Cape Fear, Lumber, Waccamaw and Pee Dee are most at risk. In Lumberton, North Carolina, the Lumber River crested at a record high of 22.18 feet Monday morning.
“It’s hard going through it all over again,” Lumberton resident Bruce Mullis said, recalling Hurricane Matthew's rampage in 2016. “It’s only been two years. It’s honestly traumatizing.”
In Fayetteville, the Cape Fear River is forecast to crest at 61.8 feet Tuesday, which is more than 25 feet above flood stage and 7 feet below the all-time record. Thousands of people were ordered to evacuate in that city as the rivers rise.
Record river flooding has been reported in several North Carolina cities and towns, including Chinquapin, Trenton and Manchester, the Weather Channel said.
As rivers swelled, North Carolina state regulators and environmental groups monitored the threat from gigantic hog and poultry farms in low-lying, flood-prone areas.
In all, a wide swath of North Carolina and a small part of South Carolina saw three-day rainfall totals that, on average, would be expected to occur about every 1,000 years, the Weather Underground reported. This means that amount of rainfall has a 0.1 percent chance of occurring in any given year.