Image: People tread over flooded streets following Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina, U.S., October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
By Jonathan Drake
LUMBERTON, N.C. (Reuters) – Hundreds of people were rescued by boat and helicopter as floodwaters inundated North Carolina towns on Monday in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, and officials warned that life-threatening flooding from swollen rivers would continue for days.
Matthew, the most powerful Atlantic storm since 2007, was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone on Sunday.
The storm left 1,000 people dead in Haiti, and on Monday United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said some Haitian towns and villages had been almost wiped off the map.
In the United States, the number of fatalities rose to at least 22, with nearly half in North Carolina.
After receiving as much s 18 inches (39 cm) of rain from Matthew over the weekend, North Carolina’s skies were clear on Monday, but there were major problems from overwhelmed rivers and breached levees.
“This storm is not over in North Carolina,” Governor Pat McCrory told reporters in Fayetteville on Monday. “It’s going to be a long, tough journey.”
Ten people have died in the state, including one in a car that was swept away by floodwaters in Johnston County on Sunday, McCrory said at an earlier news conference. With rivers rising, the governor said he expected deaths to increase.
Some 2,000 residents were stuck in their homes and on rooftops in Lumberton after the city suddenly flooded on Monday morning, McCrory said. Air and water rescues would continue throughout the day, he said.
Major flooding was expected this week in central and eastern towns along the Lumber, Cape Fear, Neuse and Tar rivers, and many other rivers and creeks were expected to crest during the week, McCrory’s office said.
East Carolina University in Greenville canceled classes for the rest of the week due to “anticipated catastrophic flooding.” Emergency officials in North Carolina’s Lenoir County issued a mandatory evacuation order on Monday afternoon for residents and businesses along the Neuse River. “It’s touch and go,” said Tammie Jones, an emergency services supervisor for the county.
Many coastal and inland communities remained under water from coastal storm surge or overrun rivers and creeks.
McCrory told reporters that he had met with an elderly woman at a shelter on Monday who had lost everything to floods.
“She’s sitting in a school cafeteria at this point in time crying and wondering what her life is going to be all about,” he said. “It breaks your heart.”
In neighboring South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley warned that waterways were quickly reaching capacity around the state.
“What might not be flooded today could be flooded tomorrow,” Haley said at a news conference.
She said there had been at least three storm-related deaths, including one in which a person in a vehicle in Florence County was swept away by floodwaters.
Warnings were also issued over downed power lines.
In Volusia County, Florida, an 89-year-old man was killed on Monday when he touched a downed power line, the local sheriff’s office said on social media.
Jake Williams of Florence, South Carolina, said on Monday that his power had been out since Saturday morning. And, he said, “Trees are down in every neighborhood on almost every road.”
In Virginia Beach, which saw more than 13 inches (33 cm) of rain, 55,000 people were without power on Sunday night.
While power was being restored in some areas, about 1.1 million people were without power in Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina and Virginia, down from Sunday’s peak of 2.2 million.
(Additional reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida and Gene Cherry in Raleigh, N.C.; Writing by Timothy Mclaughlin and Laila Kearney; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Bill Trott)
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