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Millions in way of Florence as it crawls over the Carolinas


Millions of people remained in the path of Florence as the powerful storm crawled inland Saturday, dumping heavy rain and threatening catastrophic inundations around the Carolinas. Here are snapshots of people struggling to cope with the remnants of the hurricane:

A CLOSE EYE ON THE CREEK

Tropical Storm Florence has Michael Johnson keeping a close eye on the creek that flooded his apartment in Columbia, South Carolina, almost three years ago.

Rain fell steadily across Columbia on Saturday as the slow-moving storm crawled westward toward South Carolina’s capital city. Forecasters warned Florence’s biggest inland threat was the flooding brought on by all the rain.

Johnson said knee-deep water from Gills Creek behind his ground-floor apartment swamped the building and several others in his complex in October 2015 when a distant hurricane triggered devastating floods in the Carolinas even as it bypassed the East Coast. Many residents had to be rescued by boat then.

Johnson kept looking out the sliding glass door of his apartment Saturday. His wife had worked an overnight shift at a local Waffle House, and now they watched with bags packed, ready to evacuate with their dog at the first sign of any flooding.

Said Johnson: “As soon as I see some water rise down there, I’m gone.”

FLEEING THE CAPE FEAR RIVER

Sandra Rivera was at her job at Sears on Saturday afternoon in Fayetteville, North Carolina, when her husband called and said he was picking her up right away.

A patrol car had circled their Fayetteville subdivision announcing over the loudspeaker that they were under an immediate mandatory evacuation order as the Cape Fear River continued to swell from Florence’s pelting rains.

She was shocked. They had made it through Hurricane Matthew in 2016 without problems. She didn’t even know she lived that close to the river, which runs about a half mile (less than a kilometer) away.

She rushed home and started packing the car with clothes, essentials and her three dogs. They hauled their valuables to the second floor and were preparing to take off to stay with friends for several days. She doesn’t know what she’ll come back home to. But, she said, her husband and two children will be out of danger and that’s what matters.

“Whatever is going to happen will happen,” she said. “It’s nature, I can’t control it.”

TRAPPED IN THE ATTIC

Seventy-one-year-old Patricia Dixon and her husband Graham Dixon, 73, returned Saturday to their home near New Bern after being trapped in the attic for about 17 hours as Florence flooded their home and their neighborhood earlier this week.

The winds pushed river water into a lake which usually laps against their back yard, something that had never happened before. The floodwaters swept into their ranch house until it was three feet (1 meter) deep on the first floor, built above ground level. The couple grabbed dry clothes, food, water and their dog and climbed into their attic as the winds howled, worried they could be trapped there, Patricia Dixon said.

“I’ll tell you,” she said, “when we were up in that attic and that wind started coming, I never prayed so hard in all my life. I swear I was doing non-stop praying, because that wind was booming, crashing. And I thought, Oh God, if this roof goes, we’re gone.”

The couple had put a new roof on the house a month ago.

The water rose about six inches (15 centimeters) an hour until it stopped. Then it began receding and the fire department came in a truck to take the Dixons out Friday afternoon, Graham Dixon said.

HOME AGAIN

Across the Trent River from New Bern, North Carolina, Jerry and Jan Andrews returned Saturday to the home rescuers helped them abandon only a day earlier. They came back to collect dry clothes and size up the mess left after wind-driven waters rose and flooded their home with about a foot (12 centimeters) of water.

It was the first time since the couple built the home 28 years ago that the lake behind their home overflowed. Water pushed up by Hurricane Florence came in from a creek about a mile (1.6 kilometers) away that flows to the Neuse River, said Jerry Andrews, 67.

The couple and their daughter called 911 for help late Thursday when the floodwaters crept inside, he said. A high-axle truck and its crew made it to them Friday afternoon.

“It was 40-mile-an-hour or better gusts and raining like crazy,” Jerry Andrews said. “It was pretty rough.”

By Saturday, a fishing boat on a trailer that washed over from two yards away rested on the rear property line. The family’s sedan, pickup and SUV were all parked on the front lawn and are likely total losses after water rose above their axles, Jerry Andrews said.

And down below the stairs to the back porch, a cluster of carp flopped about in the backyard after being brought in by the deluge.

WEDDING WASHOUT

Katelyn French was at a loss when her nine months of planning to be married this weekend in North Carolina’s mountains was washed away by Florence. But then family and friends in Florida’s Panhandle stepped up to give her and her fiance, Matt Parsons, a dream wedding a little closer to home.

Her aunt, April Crosby, opened her home on a lake in Chipley, Florida, for the wedding.

French tells Panama City television station WMBB that her aunt told her not to worry since the wedding was going to be “fabulous.”

Friends and family set up benches in front of the backyard lake, strung lights from trees and folded cloth napkins in preparation for Saturday’s nuptials.

French says what seemed like a disaster ended up being a blessing.

___

Associated Press writers Russ Bynum reported from Columbia, South Carolina, Claire Galofaro from Fayetteville, North Carolina, and Emery Dalesio from New Bern, North Carolina.

For the latest on Florence, visit www.apnews.com/tag/Hurricanes



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