Death toll from Florence rises, officials urge caution as storm continues

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Seventeen deaths have now been attributed to Hurricane Florence in North Carolina, including a 1-year-old boy from Union County who was swept away by floodwaters. Gov. Roy Cooper is describing Florence’s wrath as “a monumental disaster for our state.”

While the eye of the storm has left North Carolina, officials are bracing for the “worst flooding yet.” A total of 18 counties have been added to North Carolina’s Major Federal Disaster Declaration request. More counties are likely to be added, Cooper said.

“Many of our people are going to be going through assessments here over the weeks and months to be able to quantify the magnitude, but already we have 17 people who have died,” Cooper said during a briefing Monday afternoon. “We hope there is not another life lost, but we know that raging rivers are still out there and more lives can be claimed.”

While the risk of land and rock slides in the western part of the state have dissipated, Cooper said, roads in the eastern part of the state remain dangerous.

Just this morning 23 trucks of supplies — including water and food — were able to get to Wilmington after access to the city was cut off on Sunday. North Carolina Department of Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon said he doesn’t know how long that access could last.

There are more than 1,200 road closures across the state and parts of Interstate 95 and Interstate 40 remain closed to traffic. About 484,000 still did not have power, Cooper said. People are urged to stay off the roads, especially those south of U.S. Highway 64 and east of Interstate 73-74.

First responders have rescued and evacuated more than 2,600 people and more than 300 animals from flooded areas.

“Please don’t make yourself someone who needs to be rescued,” Cooper said.

Later today, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen will meet with Cooper and hold a briefing at the state’s emergency operations center. She isn’t the only federal official set to visit North Carolina this week — President Donald Trump is also scheduled to make a visit, as is FEMA Administrator Brock Long. Long is a North Carolina native.