HURRICANE FLORENCE: Worst of floods yet to come

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Water from other regions to make way to Wilmington

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. The Cape Fear River in Fayetteville, the Northeast Cape Fear River near Burgaw and the Black River near Currie either have broken or could break flood stage records in the wake of Hurricane Florence.

The waterways have something else in common.

“It’s all coming toward us” in Wilmington, said Reid Hawkins, science officer for the National Weather Service office in Wilmington.

The rivers, along with other creeks and tributaries, ultimately merge just north of downtown Wilmington before flowing to the Atlantic.

And Brunswick County will also see historic flooding, as the Waccamaw River is expected to crest at more than 23 feet near Ash.

“That’s 4 feet higher than we had for (Hurricane) Floyd,” Hawkins said.

In other words, Florence may have passed. The sun was out Wednesday and no rain is forecast for several days. Towns and counties are lifting curfews and allowing residents and the public to return to their homes.

But the Wilmington region’s flooding woes may have only just begun and the region remains under a flood warning through at least Thursday morning.

“No it’s not” getting better, Hawkins said. “We had over 30 inches of rain here and 20 inches in other parts (of the state). It takes days, if not weeks, for that water to reach the ocean.”

The Cape Fear River in downtown Wilmington isn’t expected to crest until Monday or Tuesday.

“As water from upstream floods moves through Wilmington, levels will increase over the weekend with peak tidal flooding expected Monday or Tuesday. Based on history, levels during high tides early next week could reach 8 feet,” according to a weather service bulletin.

The bulletin said that, at those levels, parts of Water Street in downtown would be under 3 feet of water.

The Northeast Cape Fear River is expected to crest at 25.45 feet on Wednesday. Its flood stage is 10 feet and its record was 22.5 feet, according to weather service data. The Cape Fear River near Fayetteville crested at more than 69 feet Tuesday night — its flood stage is 42 feet.

The Black River’s flood gauge wasn’t reporting levels Wednesday. Why? Because it’s underwater.

“It’s going to be worse than (Hurricane) Matthew,” Hawkins said. “The impacts are going to be devastating.”

Parts of Pender County “are getting areas that are flooding that didn’t even flood in (Hurricane) Matthew,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins said a weather service employee has a home near Stones Creek off of N.C. 210 in Holly Shelter. He left work Wednesday because water was approaching his house.

“It’s never flooded before,” he said.

The expected flooding, and its impacts on roads and supply chains, are why officials, from local emergency management officers to Gov. Roy Cooper, have asked residents who left the area before the storm to stay where they are.

Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram called the storm the most devastating he’s seen to hit the county. He also warned that the disaster isn’t over yet for Brunswick County, which has a rapidly rising Waccamaw River on its western border. The county issued a voluntary evacuation beginning Wednesday morning for areas impacted by the Waccamaw River.

Ingram is also worried about what will happen once the flood waters reach the Carolina Shores and Calabash area, which suffered significant flooding after heavy rainfalls in October 2015.

“We’re being faced with challenges right now we’ve never seen before,” Ingram said.

The rising — and moving – waters have prompted officials to again ask evacuees to delay their return to Wilmington

“We still encourage people who left the area to stay where you are,” New Hanover County Commissioners Chairman Woody White said Tuesday. “We love you. We miss you. But access to Wilmington is still limited and is not improving.”

“This is going to be a trying time for all of us, so please be patient,” Pender County Emergency Management Director Tom Collins added.

Reporter Adam Wagner contributed to this report.

Reporter Tim Buckland can be reached at 910-343-2217 or

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