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As the sun poked through the clouds for the first time in days across the Carolinas, the toll of flooding, power outages and downed trees across the state became apparent Monday.
At least 19 deaths were linked to the storm, including three in the Charlotte region. A three-month-old boy died Monday in Gaston County when a tree crashed through his parent’s trailer, a one-year-old died in Union County after floodwaters swept the car his mother was driving off the road, and an 88-year-old man died near Marshville after his car went off the road in a flooded area and he apparently drowned.
“I’ve worked this county 40 years. I’ve never seen flooding of this magnitude in this county,” said Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey. “This is pretty unbelievable.”
Officials across the state were echoing Cathey as the weather cleared and damage reports rolled in. Rivers were still rising in parts of eastern North Carolina, threatening communities like Lumberton and Fayetteville. Parts of Interstates 95 remained flooded, and the road was closed between Lumberton and Rocky Mount. U.S. 74 east of Lumberton was also closed, as was I-40 near Burgaw.
Rising floodwaters covered heavily traveled roads in the Triangle such as Franklin Street in Chapel Hill and Duke Street in Durham, the (Raleigh) News & Observer reported Monday. Tornado warnings Monday morning left residents in the area on edge as the last dregs of Florence passed.
Wilmington remained mostly cut off by washed out and flooded roads, except to emergency traffic. A majority of homes in Wilmington remained without power Monday.
Statewide, power outages still totaled almost 450,000 by Monday afternoon in North Carolina, including all utilities. Duke Energy said it had restored power to 1.2 million out of 1.5 million total customers who lost power over the weekend.
But as the clouds moved out Monday, it also became apparent that much of Charlotte was spared the worst-case scenario, despite parts of the city, especially in the south and east, receiving almost 11 inches of rain from Florence.
Power outages in Charlotte were down to 8,700 by Monday afternoon. There were no serious injuries reported in the city, officials said. After three days of canceled classes, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools were set to reopen Tuesday, as were city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County offices and the courts.
“We did a lot of planning,” said Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles. “We were prepared, and that makes a true difference.”
Along the Catawba, weekend fears of flooding in the lakes north and south of Charlotte largely dissipated come Monday. Duke Energy said only Lake Rhodhiss, in Burke and Caldwell counties, was above full pond Monday.
At 2:30 p.m. that was only by a foot, which Duke spokeswoman Kim Crawford said is considered minor flooding. Elsewhere, the creeks that rose sharply Sunday afternoon and flooded parts of south Mecklenburg and Union County fell just as quickly after midnight.
Water could still come above the banks at Lake Wateree in South Carolina, the final reservoir in Duke’s chain of lakes.
Though Charlotte and Mecklenburg County avoided any deaths or serious injuries as a result of the storm, three fatalities in the region were attributed to Florence and the storm’s two biggest hazards: Floods and falling trees.
▪ In Dallas, N.C., an infant boy was the first person reported killed by the storm in the Charlotte area. Kade Gill died Sunday after a large pine tree fell on his parent’s mobile home Sunday, Gaston County police said. The three-month-old was with his mother on a couch. She was preparing to feed him.
▪ The Union County Sheriff’s Office said they found the body of one-year-old Kaiden Lee-Welch on Monday morning, more than 12 hours after his mother’s Hyundai Elantra was swept off N.C. 218 by water from the nearby flooded Richardson Creek. Union County Sheriff Cathey said she drove around a barricade while heading towards Wadesboro.
Dazia Lee was able to get Kaiden out of his car seat after the car was swept across a field and pinned against trees. But then she lost her grip on him while trying to escape the car.
“When she was trying to get out of the water, she lost control of the child,” said Cathey. “The child was lost in that swift water.”
Searchers found Kaiden pinned beneath the car’s bumper in about 10 feet of water.
▪ Also in Union County, searchers found the body of an 88-year-old man on Landsford Road in Marshville, near his car in a flooded area. Cathey said it appeared that Clayburn Lee Wright ran off the road sometime Sunday night. Wright’s car was found with the window down and the man’s body outside, and Cathey said he might have drowned while trying to escape the vehicle.
Observer staff writers Theoden Janes, Cassie Cope, Michael Gordon and Jane Wester contributed